Overwatch League — Money Maker Or the Demise of Blizzard?


Blizzard is one of the first companies that come to mind when you talk about eSport game developers. Being the studio behind StarCraft: Brood War and WarCraft 3 (the reason DOTA mod and MOBA came to life) Blizzard has been lacking behind in the industry, getting scraps of the revenue Valve and Riot are making.

This may change very soon, as Blizzard is building up ground for a world-wide Overwatch League. The approach they have taken seems quite logical if you consider the experience of the company. In 2011, when MOBA was only rising, StarCraft 2 was the most known eSports game. Back then tournament organizers choked local scenes by flying top Koreans into international tournaments, and those Koreans would easily farm most of the prize money.

Michal “Carmac” Blicharz from ESL once mentioned that he was asked $25 000 to get Slayers Boxer to play at IEM and compete for the prize. This approach was working for a while, because viewers were always exposed to the highest level of competition possible. But soon many fans grew tired of “faceless Koreans winning tournament after tournament” and viewership plummeted.

This led to a nasty situation with North American and European SC2-scenes gutted and sponsors deeply disappointed.

Blizzard Learned From their Mistakes

With the new Overwatch League Blizzard is all about local players. They announced 7 teams that would represent their own cities with the support of famous figures from business and traditional sports. Most of the cities are located in USA: Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Orlando. The 2 metropolises outside the US are Shanghai (China) and Seoul (South Korea).

Blizzard plan to eventually expand the League around the world so that anyone would have a team to root for.

Controversy around Overwatch League

Back in May ESPN quoted anonymous sources, noting that Blizzard was charging teams $20 million for membership in the League. This information was also confirmed by sources of Kotaku.

According to official information, organizations will share revenue of the League, that comes from sales of skins, ticketing, broadcast rights sales etc. But the ESPN report says the teams “are not guaranteed any revenue sharing until after 2021 and only if Blizzard meets certain criteria”. This means that owners of the teams have to throw $20 million into the funnel, wait until 2022, covering different expanses along the way, and just then the will maybe get a part of the profit.

That’s a quite risky endeavor, especially with a new eSports game. According to SullyGnome, Overwatch has been declining in viewership on Twitch for the last 180 days. That is not a huge tell due to lack of premier Overwatch tournaments, but still, we can say that the community is not growing organically.

Overwatch viewship on Twitch for the last 180 days by SullyGnome

Overwatch is not Free to Play, and this is a drawback for an eSport

Dota 2 and League of Legend are arguably the most popular eSport games. One of their advantages is embracing free to play model: a viewer can watch a tournament and try to play the game without committing any money.

Overwatch League viewers will have to spend cash to start playing, and that might cut into revenue from the skins and other forms of income for the teams.

The League Hasn’t Started, But Troubles Have

Major League Baseball (MLB) might claim that the logo of Overwatch League looks too similar to their own. So far, they have only filed a request to extend the period when a repeal application may be filed, so we will report on this story when it gets more details.

What do you think about the new Overwatch League from Blizzard? Will it become a new top eSport competition of the world? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or tell us what you think at the Fast2Play Facebook and Twitter pages!

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