Blizzard’s Overwatch is the developer’s fastest growing franchise ever, which is an impressive feat given the caliber of games that Overwatch needed to compete with to win that accolade – StarCraft, World of Warcraft, and Diablo just to name a few. That kind of financial and social success draws the right kind of attention from investors, and it appears that Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch League (the OWL) has already secured the involvement of two massive US sports brands. According to sources close to Activision Blizzard and the OWL, the owners of both the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins have purchased rights to teams in the OWL worth millions of dollars.
This investment success comes just a few months after Blizzard began to heavily push the prospects of Overwatch as an eSports league. Blizzard’s approach to the Overwatch League is already very similar to the business models that have made the NFL and NBA globally recognized brands, so it makes sense that owners who have ties to those already successful plans see the potential value of the OWL as well. According to RLewisReports, which broke the news on the OWL’s major ownership acquisitions, the focus on regional franchises in the OWL means that Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner, will have a Boston-area team while Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, will likely keep a team in Miami.
It’s unknown at the moment whether Kraft and Ross will field teams using the same branding they already use for their NFL teams. From a Blizzard perspective, the media exposure from a New England Patriots eSports team is likely tantalizing, however, and it would not be surprising to hear that the developer is pushing for those brands to remain as-is in their transition into eSports.
It might seem odd to consider NFL teams taking the plunge into eSports, but it would only be strange by North American standards – plenty of European soccer teams, for instance, have already acquired eSports squads in various online multiplayer games that are popular over there. That precedent, coupled with reports that the Overwatch League could make upwards of $720 million USD, are factors that might have influenced Kraft and Ross to get on board.
While there hasn’t been an official statement made by Blizzard yet, and there’s always the chance deals like these could fall through, the inclusion of two major sporting brands in the OWL is a huge victory for the developer so early into the planning stages for the eSports league. Often, the first two investors pave the way for more at a heightened rate, so it will be worth keeping an eye on the OWL should Blizzard officially acknowledge Kraft and Ross’s involvement – there may be more NFL teams interested in a spot in the near future.