Blizzard is making it a requirement for the new Overwatch League that teams rebrand to better fit the location of the teams, according to a statement from the company made to ESPN.
What this means is instead of the familiar names the esports community has come to know and love, the esports organizations involved in the Overwatch League like Immortals, Cloud9 and Team EnVyUs will have to select new names based on their home cities or areas — Los Angeles, London and Texas respectively. And it appears that simply adding the city name to the team’s existing name — such as Los Angeles Immortals — won’t be enough to satisfy Blizzard’s rebranding requirements.
This is a move met with significant disdain from Overwatch fans, some of whom are already concerned with the level of care Blizzard has shown towards esports fans and their criticisms of the game’s watchability. Forcing rebrands for organizations with sizable existing fanbases doesn’t do much to battle the impression that Blizzard cares more about appealing to new esports fans rather than building on existing ones.
While it’s true that Blizzard has been reluctant to listen to fans when it comes to esports, there are several reasons rebranding teams could be a smart move.
First and foremost, if teams are going to be geographically tied to cities, it stands to reason their names should reflect that. Blizzard doesn’t want a team like Cloud9 that is based out of London to keep the city’s name out of its brand entirely, because then what was the point of localizing teams in the first place?
Another significant reason could be a hope that Overwatch League will become a driving force in these teams’ brand identities going forward. Most of the teams entering Overwatch League from another esport are coming in with a pre-established fan base and no consistent area of operation outside of a team house, usually based in Los Angeles. If the league is successful, this could help encourage teams to stick to the local signifiers in more of their marketing and branding in the future, which would help establish Overwatch League as the premier esports league, despite these teams making their names in games like League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive.
As Immortals CEO Noah Whinston pointed out in a video statement on the subject, in many American traditional sports, one owner or organization may have teams in many different sports, but the teams never have the same name. While this is a good point when it comes to America, European football clubs such as FC Barcelona have had multiple teams in different sports with the same names for years. Based on what Whinston is saying, it doesn’t seem like naming his team the Los Angeles Immortals is going to meet Blizzard’s rebranding requirements.
Forcing teams to rebrand puts them on a more level playing field.
The final reason the move makes sense from Blizzard is the one that most obviously crosses into the arguments fans have been making. With a mix of esports mainstays and esports startups created by traditional sports owners, the Overwatch League is attempting to put together teams of different sizes, experiences and understandings in a way that no other esports league has ever attempted.
As Whinston points out, the Overwatch League has a “particular goal that hasn’t been achieved elsewhere in esports. How do we convert a large chunk of the people that play the game of Overwatch, into people that watch the game of Overwatch?” He continues, “though people that are already part of the competitive community might know and love brands like Immortals and Cloud9, the vast majority of the player base, that hasn’t engaged with esports yet, doesn’t know those names.”
With little to no significant lead-in for some of these organizations, such as Team Boston, which will have to be created from the ground up, Blizzard wants to allow all of the teams an equal, or close to equal, chance at building a fan base without having to compete with the strength of the already established brands.
While fans may still have some reasonable trepidation about the decision, the teams themselves seem to be moving forward with little issue.
Cloud9, for instance, created a survey around the process of naming its Overwatch team. The survey asks for three suggestions. The best will be chosen and voted on by the fans, opening up the process and turning it from something that could alienate fans into something that is fan focused.
The Overwatch League is going to have growing pains as it tries to get off the ground while carrying the weight of Blizzard’s ambitions and fan’s expectations. The myriad of concerns fans have about the names of their favorite teams has a lot of merit, and they’re a good sign that the fans really do care about these teams and their opinions should be valued.
And while it may sometimes be hard for fans to see it, Blizzard is making the decisions they think are important to help this league to grow and thrive. But, just like the rest of the Overwatch League, we may not know just how these decisions will pan out until the full league launches at the end of the year.