With the final list of regional teams confirmed, Blizzard will kick off the first season of Overwatch League in January and will give Overwatch fans a chance to see the game’s best players in action. But while the run-up to launch is exciting, not everyone is convinced that the major esports initiative will be a success.
Wall Street analysis firm Cowen has now downgraded Activision Blizzard’s shares from ‘outperform’ to ‘market perform’. While the firm is “confident” about the Call of Duty series and expects Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 to be next year’s entry, analyst Doug Creutz says “we have a significant bit of nervousness around the debut of Overwatch League”.
In a note to clients, Creutz explains that investors believe esports has potential to be “a large profit generator in the future.” However, “this is the first time a publisher has ever attempted to launch a major esport from scratch” and Overwatch League will be a “learning experience” for Activision and everyone involved. Cowen believes that “the probability of reality failing to meet investor expectations is relatively high.”
This is not the first time that investors have shown their uncertainty with the Overwatch League. Although there were previous estimates that suggested the league could make as much as $720 million in its first year, this figure depended on a “confident market” and a roster of 32 teams rather than the confirmed 12. During that same estimation, investment management firm Morgan Stanley said that it was also possible that Overwatch League could be written off as a passing fad and may only make $20 million in its first year.
Activision, which reportedly has plans to launch a Call of Duty League too, will be doing what it can to respond to investor concerns and learn from any potential stumbles. Overwatch has 30 million players, but it’s easy to forget that the game isn’t yet two years old and its esports scene is still fledgling.
The Overwatch World Cup is finding its footing in its second year (it doubled the amount of participating teams to 32) and the developmental Overwatch Contenders scheme has also begun.
Activision Blizzard should be able to learn lessons here and in the Overwatch League’s inaugural season, figuring out how to make the game’s esports scene profitable for teams and engaging for fans. So even if the league gets off to a rocky start as some analysts predict, they’ll be hoping that the team behind it will be able to make improvements.
Overwatch is out now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.