Blizzard announced today the first seven team owners and partners for Overwatch League, the company’s ambitious plan for bringing the e-sports side of its popular multiplayer team shooter mainstream with city-based teams that mirror conventional sports franchises.
And those owners include some big names from the world of traditional sports. First and foremost is Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who bought the rights for a Boston-based Overwatch team. Jeff Wilpon, the COO of the New York Mets, will be fielding a New York City franchise.
Other newly announced teams draw from major players in the e-sports world. Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals, is investing in a Los Angeles team; Ben Spoont, CEO and co-founder of Misfits Gaming, will bring a team to Miami-Orlando; and Andy Miller, chairman and founder of NRG Esports, will run a San Francisco-based team. Rounding out the first batch of Overwatch League teams and cities are a Shanghai team owned by Blizzard’s Chinese partner NetEase, and a Seoul team owned by Kevin Chou (the co-founder of Kabam). Blizzard also plans to add other teams and cities over time beyond these first seven teams.
A big bet from Blizzard to try to get ‘Overwatch’ e-sports into the mainstream
The Overwatch League is a big bet from Blizzard to try to get Overwatch e-sports into the mainstream. The city-based approach is virtually unheard of in other e-sports, and the company is really trying to make sure that teams take things seriously. According to an ESPN report, Blizzard is looking for a $20 million per team buy-in from owners, with no revenue sharing until 2021. Blizzard declined to discuss the rumored buy-in, but noted that teams will have a big opportunity.
According to Nate Nanzer, the commissioner of Overwatch League, tying the teams to specific cities is meant to mirror the structure of conventional sports leagues. “We did a lot of research into traditional sports, and how do traditional sports teams make money, and what we saw is that in traditional sports teams make money because they have a venue and host home games and sell tickets and merchandise and all that, and that’s completely missing from e-sports,” he says.
Nanzer also noted that Blizzard hopes that anchoring the teams to specific cities will help attract fans through local allegiances to their hometowns. Andy Miller, the owner of the newly founded San Fransisco team, agreed, saying that the concept of a city-based pro e-sport league was “the biggest selling point on the idea of joining up in the league.”
Correction: Fixed spelling on Nate Nanzer’s name.