The year 2019 will be a breakthrough year for Overwatch as an esports and the Overwatch League as a business model. The Vice President and Commissioner of the Overwatch League, Nate Nanzer has confirmed that teams will be moving their games to their home cities starting next year. The third year of the Overwatch league was always going to be an important year for the implementation of their league model. The first two years saw all the teams play from Los Angeles out of Blizzard’s facilities. The casters and the production crew were all based out of the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles. However, things are going to change from next year as teams will move their matches to individual stadiums and local venues.
The @overwatchleague is coming home – and away! Starting in 2020, all Overwatch League teams will be playing in their home cities. We’re super excited to see our original vision brought to life. Thanks to all of our fans for your amazing support!
— Nate Nanzer (@natenanzer) March 15, 2019
The move assumes significance for the esports industry as well. The success of this format would open up new avenues for investments and expansion for other esports titles as well. It will be a familiar approach for investors non-endemic to esports.
The existing twenty teams are still in the process of ironing out details of their home venues for Season 3. Till then, the Overwatch League will not see more expansion teams. We feel this is the right approach going forward for OWL. With millions of dollars invested into the League, it is imperative for it to prove that its unique model can work in esports.
The ‘Home and Away’ system in Overwatch will be an interesting format. It is not exactly similar to existing physical sports leagues with the same format. Teams in the Overwatch league are from all over the world. In fact, there are only 11 teams from the United States of America. There are four Chinese teams including the three new additions in Season 2. The majority of the players in the Overwatch League are from South Korea. The sheer logistics of managing the movement of teams, players and the support staff as well as coaches will be a nightmare for the teams. To add to this, they will also need to ensure decent footfalls, sponsorships, merchandise and pricing at their home venues.
It’s really taking a page out of traditional sports scheduling, this isn’t just an important step for the Overwatch League; it’s an important step for esports. . . . You look at the esports club model where everyone is playing in a central studio or online, the business model is global sponsorships, there’s some competition there, and then monetizing content through YouTube and Twitch and other platforms. But if you look at the way teams drive revenue in traditional sports, it’s because they have a venue. They can sell tickets, VIP experiences and boxes and all of those things — concessions, parking, merchandise and local sponsorships — which to date have had no reason to invest in esports.
Nate Nanzer wants the existing teams to establish their home venues and have the OWL start behaving like a regular sports league. There are differences in the operations, especially because of how OWL spans three continents at present. However, according to Nate, the travel costs for the teams will not run into the millions. The Overwatch league will plan the schedule and format of Season 3 to accommodate all the players and their road games. We will see teams playing multiple matches on their road games ensuring streamlined scheduling for players. In addition to this, players might also get a week off following a road trip.
Traditional esports leagues and tournaments do not feature home and away matches. Most of the matches are held in third-party neutral venues and on a global scale. The selling points for most of the tournament organisers remains their high viewership for esports. They rope in sponsors and investments from a global scale. This is good, however, it definitely limits their ability to further increase their revenues. With the introduction of the Overwatch Leauge, it brings in a new format for teams and esports leagues to monetize their events.
Since every team receives a specific geographic location as its catchment area, it almost surely guarantees them the support of the local populace. For a new fan, who is not knowledgeable of the Overwatch esports landscape, OWL makes the decision easier for the player. He can choose to support his local team and watch his team play at a local venue. The Overwatch league format is a welcome gift to everyone who wants to get into esports but has little exposure to the industry. Supporting your local team in their match is one way of getting newcomers into the arena. They will meet several like-minded people and develop an interest in the game itself.
The success of the Overwatch League with its unique format is crucial for the future of the esports industry. Despite having high viewership numbers and lots of online engagement, esports still seems to struggle for revenues and maintaining a decent bottom line. With many publications constantly over-valuing esports to outsiders, investors tend to develop high expectations from esports.
When they are unable to receive the expected Returns from their investments [ with these inflated expectations] they tend to pull out of the industry. The Overwatch League will show investors something familiar. They are able to correlate with the format for regular sports and it represents something that they have experience in. Esports has never been the hard-seller for merchandise sales, VIP experiences and ticket sales for every match. The addition of professionals with experience in organising sports events will help esports events and their revenues.
Blizzard is already planning a Call of Duty League with franchises expected to sell for around $25 million. If the Overwatch League Season 3 can take off without any problems, we will see more investors entering Blizzard’s esports. The Overwatch league wants to expand to 28 teams in the future with teams from all over the world. We do expect many more teams to come from Europe and possibly Asia in the future.
The concept of Home and Away has its fair share of advantages for the Overwatch League and esports in general. However, it is not without multiple problems and logistical difficulties for the teams and Blizzard as well.
Season 2 of the Overwatch League saw several roster changes just before the start of the Season. These changes left a few players surprised and a case in point is Gamsu. He was traded to the Shanghai Dragons just a few days before the start of the League.
With Season 3 taking place all over the world, it is necessary for teams and the League to come up with rules regarding player changes. Teams should not be allowed to make announcements of roster changes so close to the start of the league. It leaves players in a difficult situation as they will have to make many changes to their papers and various formalities.
The Season 1 schedule saw teams play a very packed schedule. By the end of the season, everyone was complaining about Burnout and how the schedule left little time for themselves. Between the Official matches and the off-time between weeks being very less, players did not have time to rest. Most of their off-time was spent in practice or scrimming against other teams in the League.
Ofcourse the Overwatch league still has time to understand and fix these problems for next season. Season 2 will see a limited number of ‘Home and Away’ matches, which will serve as a preparation for Season 3. For now, Overwatch league season 2 seems to be successful with a 30% rise in viewership numbers. The Stage 1 Playoffs begin on March 21st and you can catch all the action live on Twitch.