Blizzard announces the Overwatch League, which seeks to establish regional fan bases and provide greater security for players and team owners by copying traditional sports.
The Overwatch announcement that got the most attention at this year's BlizzCon was the long awaited reveal of Sombra, the next hero to be added to the game. However, Blizzard made one other announcement during the opening ceremony that could potentially have an even bigger long-term impact for Overwatch, a title that now boasts more than 20 million players.
The Overwatch League is a professional gaming organization that will serve as the pinnacle of Overwatch eSports, starting in 2017. Yes, there are other eSports organizations out there like Major League Gaming, but with Overwatch League, Blizzard appears to be going all out in an attempt to emulate city-based leagues like the NFL or NBA.
Teams will be formed in various cities throughout the United States and the rest of the world in an effort to develop regional fan bases. As an example, Blizzard envisions a future where fans in Pittsburgh could watch the Steelers play the New York Jets in an NFL game on a Sunday afternoon, but then tune into Twitch later that evening to cheer on the Pittsburgh Overwatch team as they compete against a team from Chicago.
What's more is that Blizzard intends to provide NFL-like stability for both players and team owners with some serious financial support. No specific numbers are available yet, but Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime told the BlizzCon crowd last Friday that all players in the league will receive a baseline minimum salary and benefits like health care. Once team owners are selected and welcomed into the League, their spot is permanent. Kotaku reports that Blizzard hosted executives from various sports franchises at BlizzCon this past weekend. It's expected that millions of dollars will be bid by potential owners looking to get a team into Overwatch League.
Blizzard even plans to have free agency and an annual combine where amateur Overwatch players can go to try and impress team owners and land a contract. Lower tiers of competition may also be created, similar to the way the minor leagues work in baseball, in an effort to help push new talent towards the top.
"The Overwatch League represents not only the pinnacle of Overwatch competition, but also a genuine career opportunity for the most skilled Overwatch players," Morhaime said in the official announcement. "We’re building a league that’s accessible to players and fans, sustainable, and exciting for everyone involved."
This is obviously quite an ambitious project for Blizzard but if it succeeds, it could serve as a blueprint for other top tier eSports titles like League of Legends or Counter-Strike. Blizzard is widely credited with starting the eSports revolution with Starcraft many years ago and now it appears that the developer might be able to change the video game industry once again with Overwatch League.
Overwatch is out now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.