#Footnotes is Rachelle Riddle's weekly Explainer column about what's going on beneath the surface of the world of gaming.
You may have heard about Blizzard's new Overwatch League, which aims to bridge the gap between esports and traditional sports by providing geographically-based competition for the rising industry. It goes beyond independent tournaments to create a lasting entertainment for fans and a viable career path for players.
The #Overwatch League is expected to officially kick off later this year. The player signing period opened this month and will run through October, likely leading into the start of the first season. Nine teams have already signed up and most of them are owned by established #esports brands. Ahead of season opening came today's announcement that all teams will need new, geolocational branding.
New Teams, New Brands
#Blizzard will require every owner to create a new team for the Overwatch League. They recognize that there will be a lot of overlap in staffing, business, and advertising, but they want the teams to have separate brands. The new names for each team have not been decided or announced, but every owner is on board and has created a separate business for their individual teams.
While the new branding requirement is uncommon in esports, where many brands keep a consistent name across multiple teams and esports games, it mimics traditional sports leagues like the NFL. Teams are tied to the local area rather than a nebulous organization.
Blizzard Is In Control
The Overwatch League is Blizzard's baby. They created it and they are responsible for it. Requiring new branding for each team means Blizzard has a stake in the names as well. The teams aren't just representing themselves, they're representing the Overwatch League and Blizzard by extension.
Teams of this caliber are rarely without issue, and we sometimes hear of ethical disputes popping up. If the teams kept current brand names and something unethical happened with another team under the same brand, then it would affect the Overwatch League by association. By creating new branding and business entities for each team, Blizzard ensures that the Overwatch League stays unaffected by any outside influences.
It Sets Up For Long-Term Success
Keeping the brand associated with the new team rather than previously established teams helps preserve its future. If at any point down the road, say in 5 or so years, when a team is exceedingly popular and valuable, the owner may decide to sell it. If they used the branding for a previously established team, that the owner may still retain control and the new team would have to completely re-brand. Not only does this hurt the Overwatch League team, but it also hurts the fans. No one wants to buy a team that would lose its main point of recognition. Fans also don't want their team merchandise to become obsolete.
Teams Are On Even Footing
Obviously, established esports teams would love to use their current name recognition to pull in fans that already follow them. But the point of the Overwatch League is to create popularity in the team locations rather than current organizations. Having a new brand for each team puts them on even footing with regards to new fans, especially new teams created by the traditional sports owners. Current fans will still follow the existing esports organizations, regardless of the new name. But new fans will have their choice of teams to decide on rather than jumping on the bandwagon, so to speak, and choosing the most popular one.
While we won't be able to root for favorites under the names we've come to know, we'll still be able to root for them in a new league.
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