Photo Credit Overwatch League
Next week is going to be an important one for the esports scene at large, but unless you’re paying attention you may not know it. Las Vegas is going to be ground zero for the Esports Business Summit which takes place September 10th to the 12th at the MGM Grand. If you’re wondering what exactly the Esports Business Summit is the event overview at the website sums it up succinctly, “The Esports Business Summit brings together all sectors of the esports ecosystem for three days of networking, education and inspiration.” It’s a lot of stuff that affects more of the behind the scenes action than anything else, so don’t expect any new teams or franchises to be announced. It is, however, a great time to pay attention and anticipate what moves the industry may be making.
One of the interesting talks that will be taking place is a “State of the Union” for the Overwatch League. In celebration of the Esports Business Summit and in anticipation of this State of the Union, I thought we’d take a look back at this year in comparison to the inaugural season of the Overwatch League and do our own State of the Union from the perspective of the viewer.
The inaugural season of the Overwatch League was a roaring success. As the first esport league to attempt a geo-location franchise model they hit the ball out of the park. They started with 10 teams with superb branding and instantly locked in fans across the world. There were many who said geo-location wouldn’t work in an industry that was used to brands being global. But Activision-Blizzard and the Overwatch League were banking on what has always worked for traditional sports and that gamble paid off. Going into the 2019 Season they doubled down and introduced another 10 teams from around the world which integrated seamlessly into the league and instantly started to grow their own fanbases. In addition the 2019 Season also saw several high profile sponsors invest in the league including American Legacy brands like Coca-Cola. We also can’t forget that the Overwatch League secured broadcasting rights with Disney on the Disney XD Channel and with ESPN to broadcast games on the ESPN App. They even broadcast Sunday games on ABC in a prime-time slot.
The other big move the Overwatch League made this year is the three Homestand Weekends. These served as test and template for how home and away games would work in the Overwatch 2020 Season. The first Homestand Weekend took place in Dallas, TX and was a huge success, but that’s not too much of a surprise given how esports have taken root in the Texas triangle. The League also held a Homestand event in Atlanta, GA and the final Homestand which was sponsored by Kit Kat was in Los Angeles.
It’s difficult to argue the success of the Overwatch League over these past two seasons, but their biggest challenge is yet to come. The Homestand Weekends may have been huge hits this past season but they were also strategically chosen to do just that. The Dallas Fuel has one of the largest, rabid fan bases in the league despite less than average team success this season. The Atlanta Reign may have been newcomers to the League but their fans are just as invested as any team from the inaugural season. The real question and the real test is if these Homestand games in the 2020 season will sell out and fill up for 27 weeks. That’s going to be a tall order as we move into the second half of the season and teams who have no play-off chances start to see a decline in viewership. It’s easy to fill up a stadium in Los Angeles when you have two teams like the Valiant and Gladiators calling it home. But when the Florida Mayhem are staring down a loss season with no hope in sight and no stage play-offs as a consolation prize to work towards will anyone want to fill those seats?
Hopefully we’ll get some answers next week at the Esports Business Summit with the Overwatch State of the Union. It’s important to remember that the newest commissioner Pete Vlastelica has a background in traditional sports and has also been working closely with the Overwatch League since as far back in its development as 2016, which means we can likely expect to see more influence from the traditional sports world taking hold in the Overwatch League.
For more Overwatch and Overwatch League content check out more episodes of Low Team Damage!
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