The Overwatch League originally announced their seven founding members in July. Today, that number grows to nine. Jack Etienne of Cloud9 has joined the Overwatch League, claiming the city of London, England. In addition, Stan and Josh Kroenke have purchased a slot for the second team to represent Los Angeles.
“We’re thrilled to be bringing together more leaders from esports like Jack of Cloud9 and traditional sports like Stan and Josh of the LA Rams, Arsenal Football Club, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, to create an amazing competition that celebrates and rewards players and fans in London, Los Angeles, and beyond.” said Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick in a press release.
These two new investors will join the Overwatch League as founding members, joining Robert Kraft (Boston), Jeff Wilpon (New York), Noah Whinston (Los Angeles), Ben Spoont (Miami-Orlando), Andy Miller (San Francisco), NetEase (Shanghai), and Kevin Chou (Seoul). This extends the Overwatch League into Europe, with the potential for more teams to join in the future.
Heroes Never Die had the opportunity to sit down with Nate Nanzer, Commissioner of the Overwatch League, and talk about not only these two new investors, but the gameplan for Overwatch esports.
Building fan foundations
The defining factor in each founding member so far, according to Nanzer, is a mix of business skills and passion. “First and foremost, one thing that’s consistent across all of our owners regardless of their background is they’ve shown a tremendous ability to grow and foster a fan base, whether that is around traditional sports, esports, or mobile games.
“We wanted best-in-class entrepreneurs who could see the opportunity with the Overwatch League who could see the market and start building a generational fan base around those teams.” Nanzer elaborates.
For the first year, the Overwatch League will play out entirely in Los Angeles. “There’s a lot that goes into hosting an esports event, and we want to make sure teams have time to build that capability.” Nanzer explains.
After the first year, the league will move into a home and away format. Despite this global format, the people behind the Overwatch League want to build a connection between viewers and players. Nanzer notes that the connection created by esports tournaments, social media, and streaming is something special.
“From a content creation standpoint, we want to focus on telling the stories around our players and teams.” he says.
Around the world
A key part of the Overwatch League continually brought up in marketing, press releases, and interviews is the city-based format. The idea is to create an environment that cultivates local communities and following for teams. “We wanted to make sure that more fans around the world have the opportunity to engage in esports content live,” Nanzer explains.
“I think something we see in all the events we do around the world, especially at BlizzCon every year, the esports audience has a ton of passion and loves to engage in this content live and engage with the community and other like minded folk.”
The question is whether the civic pride and city-based fandom can translate over from traditional sports to esports. Nanzer is confident with his answer: it’s already happening.
“I think the Overwatch World Cup is proof positive of that,” he said. “We’re seeing tons of fans come out in support of their national team, and I think that’s going to translate really well to the city level as well.
“If you’re a casual gamer that is aware of esports, you play Overwatch or another game but you don’t know much about esports, what reason do you have to get involved?” Nanzer continues. “If you live in New York and you’re one of those casual players and you see there’s a New York team and you can buy a ticket and go to a game, we think that’s an easy on ramp to get involved from there.”
"Overwatch is a global game, with heroes - and players - from around the world, so it's important to us that as many Overwatch League fans as possible have local or regional teams to root for," said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment in a press release. "In addition to broadening the competitive field for Season 1, we're excited that today's announcement helps set the stage for more epic intercontinental rivalries."
An interesting thing about the latest announcement is that Los Angeles will have a second team representing the city when the Overwatch League goes live.
“It’s about the size of the market.” Nanzer says. “There’s a few markets in the world that we think are big enough to support multiple teams, and we think LA is one if them.” Nanzer cites the local fanbase and infrastructure as reasons why LA will enter the Overwatch League with two teams.
In a press release, Josh Kroenke, cofounder of KSE Esports elaborated on why he chose to invest in the Overwatch League, and LA in particular. “Building communities around the best competitive experiences in the world is incredibly rewarding, and the Overwatch League offers the chance to create something special.”
He added, “We’re impressed by the vision and strategy for the League, and we’re going to build a great team for Los Angeles that inspires fans near and far.”
As for continuing to choose host cities and accept teams, Nanzer can’t confirm any details. “We’re still in conversations. Our goal over time is to make sure the league is representing all the top cities in the world, and we have great representation in Asia, in Europe, and throughout the Americas. No region locking is important for us because we want to make sure all the best players are in the OWL regardless of their nationality.”
Jack Etienne, the founder and CEO of Cloud9, commented on his London slot purchase in a press release. “We applaud the creation of the Overwatch League, and couldn't be happier partnering with an organization that shares our values and vision of serving athletes, teams, and fans.”
"We are thrilled that Cloud9’s formidable fan base throughout Europe and the UK now has a local team to call their own, and can’t wait to start representing London in the Overwatch League."
The expansion into Europe breaks new ground for the Overwatch League, and Nanzer is hoping that momentum continues. “Our expectation is that the Overwatch professional player pool will end up looking a lot like the Overwatch player pool is that it’s truly global.”
Unlocking new potential
Nate Nanzer’s answers often loop back around to bringing in more viewers, different markets, new fans. When I ask him about whether he thinks home cities will be limiting, he’s not concerned.
“There’s obviously huge fan bases in the cities around the home teams, but sports teams are a global brand too,” he said. “Just because you don’t live in that city, doesn’t mean you can’t necessarily be a fan of that team.”
Nanzer is optimistic the city-based teams will end up bringing in new blood.
“We think locating teams in the cities are going to unlock a lot of fandom that’s nascent right now among people who play a lot of games,” he said. “I think we have a real opportunity to make the Overwatch League the type of environment for live event standpoint where you can have young people who are getting together on a Friday night going tout to have fun, you can have families, fathers and sons and mothers and daughters, and that’s certainly our goal.”
Nanzer mentions that two billion people play video games every year, but just two or three hundred million are esports fans. He’s acutely aware that Overwatch has been a massive hit, bringing in new audiences outside of the 18-35 male demographic norm. “ We’re being very thoughtful about the way we’re building Overwatch: the IP, the franchise, and obviously the game is the core of that.”
He continues, explaining the ecosystem Blizzard is building. “But we have the comic books, the merchandise, the animated short - we’ll continue to build out all of those things that tell the story of Overwatch - but the Overwatch League and Overwatch esports is a big part of that. We think the Overwatch League is going to be a key part of that ecosystem.”
The Open Division and Overwatch Contenders were announced before the seven founding members, and that’s because the plan is to create an ecosystem. “It’s really important to us that we’re not just building the professional league, but we’re building the entire sport of Overwatch.”
The Open Division allows any player with a high enough ranking to compete in some capacity, while the League itself stands as an end goal. “The Overwatch League is meant to be an aspirational league.” Nanzer says, citing the salary and player benefits being offered.
Ultimately, Nanzer hopes that the League reflects Overwatch’s playerbase. “It’s not a game that’s only played in the west, only played in China - it’s a game that’s played everywhere.”
Additional information about the League’s format and timeline, as well as new cities and team members, will be shared by Blizzard in the months to come.
More information about the League’s format and timeline, as well as new team announcements, will be shared over the coming months.