Following the announcement of the Overwatch League, the eSports community responded with typical scepticism. This is an understandable reaction because for a long time now, eSports have been developing on their own track, mostly separate from how things have been done in mainstream sports. With Overwatch League being such an ambitious and, frankly, different project from what’s being done at the moment, the scepticism is totally understandable.
The main concerns raised by the community had to do with the fact that Blizzard intends the teams in their League to be city-based, the whole Combine thing, what was to happen to the existing organizations after Overwatch League starts, the fate of third party events, and the amount of control Blizzard Entertainment expects to have over everyone involved.
To speak about the matter and provide more info, Blizzard’s Global Head of eSports, Nate Nanzer, came to give an interview on the OverView podcast this week. After watching it, most of the concerns raised by the community should be answered. If you are too busy to watch the video yourself, we’re here to provide you with the gist of it.
First of all, the city-based teams. The idea behind the initiative is twofold. First, Blizzard wants eSports fans to be able to actually take part in live events more often. According to Nate Nanzer, it would be extremely cool to be able to go and watch a match between two eSports teams just as you can basketball. As it stands now, attending live eSports events involves traveling in a car for hours and hours, often across state lines or even flying out for a weekend. Not many people have the funds, time, or passion for eSports to do that. If teams were more local, attending live events could be easier.
The second reason for local teams has to do with the growing involvement of mainstream sports orgs and teams’ revenue streams. At the moment, teams’ income almost exclusively comes from sponsorships. On the other hand, sports organizations also earn a chunk of their money from match day sales of jerseys, food, and other concessions, as well as ticket sales, of course. If Overwatch teams were local, they would have home games in arenas or eSports centers. Entrance could be ticketed, boosting teams’ income. As it happens, most cities also have an arena or stadium, which stands empty most of the time. Why not use the space for eSports matches, while selling everything associated with sports matches on the day?
Nanzer didn’t get into the Combine too deeply. He only reassured fans that the whole thing isn’t supposed to be overly concerned with players’ mechanical abilities, like hitscan accuracy. Instead, the Combine is supposed to be run to show prospective teams who the player is as a complete person. Could it be that the Combine will mostly consist of psychological and mental aptitude tests to see whether the players will be able to deal with the professional gamer lifestyle?
That would actually be really useful. If you want to know how well the player plays the game, you can just have an analyst watch how he does on stream, his ranking and stats should also help, however, the psychological characteristics are just as important and much harder to determine. That is where the Combine could be the most useful — preventing talent acquisitions, where the player turned out to crumble under the pressure of playing in front of a live audience.
Concerning the fate of the existing organizations, Nate Nanzer didn’t provide a lot of detail, though he did say that he had a meeting with a lot of current and prospective owners, where Blizzard plans for the League were discussed in more detail than what was made available publically. Apparently, everyone came away happy after the meeting. Some people who initially reacted to the announcement skeptically, but later had the chance to talk to people who were in the meeting, got the impression that the participants were calm, not overly worried, which actually helped to turn around their own opinions.
After watching the interview, most of our concerns about the fate of third party events have been answered sufficiently. According to Nanzer, the offseason for pros is an important priority. Overwatch League shouldn’t be as long as the LCS, for example. If it ends in a timely manner, 3rd party events can be held while it’s not on, or, alternatively, players can have a nice long vacation if they prefer.
The final concern raised by the eSports community, with the Riot Games matter fresh in their minds, is how much influence Blizzard intends to have over the Overwatch scene. When Nanzer was speaking about the matter of home teams, the topic came up. He said, “Our job is not to influence; what I’m focused on is building the best system going forward, where people can feel like they’re investing in something that is a real asset.” Hopefully, that turns out to be true.
All in all, just like with the rest of the public relations arounda the Overwatch scene, Blizzard Entertainment have been doing a good job, earning themselves a lot of good faith. Hopefully, they will prove it to be well-earned with their actions as well as words in the future. The whole Overwatch League phenomenon will be a very good test. If Blizzard passes it, they could actually change not only the direction of Overwatch eSport, but the rest of them as well.