#Footnotes is Rachelle Riddle's weekly Explainer column about what's going on beneath the surface of the world of gaming.
The Overwatch League was announced last year at BlizzCon and it's finally getting close to launch. The league was created by #Blizzard to add more stability to esports and guarantee players can make a dependable living in the rising #esports industry. The league hopes to mimic the success of regular sports and bring esports into the mainstream.
#Overwatch already caught the eye of traditional sports when Major League Baseball temporarily contested the Overwatch League logo registration. Esports has been attracting major sports figures who recognize its potential. As we can see from the teams in the league, with many of the owners already running sports teams, it's not so different from traditional sports.
Regional And Local Teams
Teams are based locally out of cities, similar to how sports teams operate now. There is a hefty $20 million buy-in to register, higher in urban areas like Los Angeles or New York. Teams will consist of 6-12 players and there are no region locks as to who can be picked up where — international players will be able to play anywhere. Teams also provide player housing and facilities according to Blizzard standards. So far nine teams have been announced:
- Los Angeles: Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals
- Los Angeles: Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, owners of the LA Rams and Denver Nuggets
- San Francisco: Andy Miller, chairman and founder of NRG Esports
- New York: Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets
- Boston: Robert Kraft, chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots
- London: Jack Etienne, owner of Cloud9
- Seoul: Kevin Chou, co-founder of Kabam
- Shanghai: NetEase
Technically, every single one of Overwatch's 30 million players is a free agent and able to sign to any team, though an initial scouting report was sent out to help teams pick their rosters. The scouting report evaluated the world's top Overwatch players based on top 500 ranking in the game's competitive Seasons 3 or 4, playoffs in tournaments, and players on current professional Overwatch teams. Any players already on those other Overwatch teams are free to sign to these established city teams.
The First Season
Season 1 is due to start later this year. The signing period will run from August 1 to October 30. As this is the first season, the signing period is open to both established teams as well as any teams who want to sign up during this period. For future seasons, the signing period will be more structured.
The first season will see all matches played from an arena in Los Angeles and is set to last 12 weeks, ending in the playoffs for the championship. The first season will be slightly shortened and they plan to have full seasons starting in 2018. Once the league is up and running, and able to accommodate physical venue costs, they hope to have future season matches set in venues like esports championships or home and away games like traditional sports.
Players drafted onto teams are guaranteed contracts and salaries. Contracts will last at least a year with an option to extend for an additional year. Players are paid a minimum $50,000 salary and receive healthcare, retirement, and at least 50% of performance bonuses from winning competitions and leagues. The first season will offer $3.5 million in bonuses with at least $1 million for the winners.
One of the Overwatch League's goals was to provide an arena for players to compete on a professional level while earning a salary. Too often players are taken advantage of by organizations and by guaranteeing a salary and benefits, the league puts players closer to professional athletes.
The first season has yet to begin, but Blizzard hopes to it will secure a permanent place in entertainment and something for all Overwatch players to aspire to. Anyone can be signed if they're good enough and esports may just become a legitimate career path in the future because of it.
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