Blizzard Reaches for the Stars with the Overwatch League

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Published on: 03/07/2017

The market for eSports is growing, and Overwatch is looking to take control when they launch their first shortened season on Q3 of 2017.

The Overwatch League is already starting gathering an audience with tournaments like Overwatch Contenders and Overwatch Open Division which open the competitive scene to players and viewers who would otherwise be absent from professional play.

When the league finally launches it is not going to be a typical MLG season of competitive gaming. Activision Blizzard wants to set the tone for the future of eSports, and believes Overwatch has the potential to be the trail blazer for mainstream interest in professional video game play. Mike Sepso, MLG’s founder and Senior Vice President of Activision Blizzard, outlined some of the ambitious goals for the Overwatch League in his presentation during the Gamelab conference in Barcelona last week.

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Sepso stated that the Overwatch League is the number one priority in eSports right now because of its ability to take the genre into the future. He sees bigger advertisers spending money on television and believes they can be lured into the eSports market with the right strategy and on-screen product. That’s where The Overwatch League fits in. It will give advertisers a platform to sell their products to a younger generation that doesn’t watch TV like their parents.

“The car makers, the insurance providers; all of those big, big industries that are huge advertisers globally in other forms of media. They have to start looking at their spending and say, ‘Why am I spending so much on television? Nobody under 40 is watching’,” Sepso said on the topic of non-gaming advertisement in eSports.

When the Overwatch League was first announced in Novermber of last year, it was clear that they planned on creating a different product than those of other eSports. The biggest change to the industry comes in the form of franchised, city-based teams. This brings the Overwatch League closer to a traditional sports league, but there is some worry about the fact that eSports fans have never been chosen their rooting interest based on their location.

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On this issue, Sepso was confident that the Overwatch League would be opening doors instead of closing them. Marketing a team to an international audience is difficult, but city-specific teams would allow for new fans to find a representative from their city instead of watching hours of competition before finding someone to which they relate. There is currently a high-barrier of entry for new eSports viewers, and static, franchised teams is one way to make it easier on someone who wants to get involved.

It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows in the professional Overwatch scene, though, as Sepso’s speech comes at a time when people are second-guessing the success of the competitive Overwatch. Eurogamer recently published an article that displayed the steep decline in professional tournament support in 2017.

Tournaments aren’t being hosted like they were last year, which has made some organizations go so far as to drop their teams altogether. Part of the reason for this is how tight-lipped Activision Blizzard has been on their plans for the season, and there is even some speculation about their ability to attract big-name advertisers outside of the gaming niche.

2017 might not be the best year for professional Overwatch, but viewer interest remains strong and Activision Blizzard remains dedicated. It’s clear that the Overwatch League is much bigger than just this game. The changes that the league plans to make will be what shape the future of eSports as a whole. Attracting the attention of new viewers – especially those who don’t necessarily play the game – has always been the challenge of eSports and the Overwatch League is trying to change that.

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