Blizzard Entertainment Creating NFL-Like League For Overwatch

The many millions of enthusiasts who now enjoy competitive e-sports will have a major new option in 2017 — and players will have the chance to make a career out of it. Blizzard Entertainment Friday announced the creation of the Overwatch League, an “ecosystem” for professional competition among the best of the best in the team-based shooter game that only launched in May but already has more than 20 million users worldwide.

The Irvine, Calif.-based division of Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard Inc. “wants to bring to e-sports the wealth and recognition that sports such as soccer, football and basketball generate,” it says. A YouTube trailer targeting potential participants — and playing up the dazzling possibilities of fame and fortune — has had more than four million views as of this morning.



“For the uninitiated, e-sports refers to the phenomenon of turning video games into a spectator sport. According to SuperData, 214 million people will watch competitive e-sports gaming this year, and the industry will grow its revenue 19% to $892.8 million,” Paul Bond writes for The Hollywood Reporter. “In fact, e-sports has grown so big that there are even fantasy players, much like fantasy football or baseball, and participants can play for money.”

“Blizzard envisions professional teams … based in major cities worldwide. Players would be scouted and signed through free agency and receive guaranteed salaries and benefits. Feeder leagues would help train players up for the pros,” writes Paresh Dave for the Los Angeles Times. “Potential team owners are expected to bid millions of dollars in the coming months to be one of the league’s founding members. Their team’s slot in the league would be permanent.”

“The biggest videogame company in the U.S. by market value … is talking to owners of more than 100 traditional and e-sports teams to gauge their interest” in joining the league, Sarah E. Needleman reports for the Wall Street Journal, but it would not disclose any names.

“E-sports today is largely a universe of independent teams put together by players and funded by sponsors, competing in tournaments organized by disparate groups and game makers,” Needleman writes. “Dozens of tournaments exist for popular games such as Nintendo Co.’s ‘Super Smash Bros.,’ Electronic Arts Inc.’s ‘Madden NFL’ and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s ‘League of Legends.’

“Previous attempts to organize e-sports by companies such as Electronic Sports League, which runs competitions, were mainly marketing efforts.”

Overwatch features 23 different heroes — “each with their own unique arsenal of extraordinary weapons and incredible abilities,” according to the release announcing the league. “As battles to capture and control objectives play out in exotic locations all over the world, players can switch between these heroes on the fly, adapting their team’s composition to the ever-changing state of the battlefield.” 

Activision Blizzard reported “better than expected and record” results for its third quarter last Thursday. For the period ending Sept. 30, it “saw 10 billion hours of playtime across its titles and the company has 482 million monthly active users,” Zarmena Khan reports for “Activision also owns four of the top 10 games on current-gen platforms to date, with ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops III’ holding the No. 1 spot.”

“Though only months old, Overwatch … has benefited from being within a familiar, long-established genre of games and being available to play on many devices,” the LAT’s Dave reports. Bond points out that the figure of 20-million users is about 20 times the number of high school football players in the U.S.

“Blizzard will host a combine, inviting eligible players who have been high performers in competitive Overwatch to date. And it's not just for hanging out and talking,” writes Dan Szymborski for “The players will be evaluated in a range of tests and the teams will be given the opportunity to sign players from their résumé and their performance history.” 

“On that path to pro, there needs to be a step between ‘I got No. 1 on the ladder’ and ‘I got signed to an Overwatch team,’” Nate Nanzer, global director of Overwatch e-sports, tells Szymborski. “And the combine we think is a great opportunity to do that and a great opportunity to start the storytelling around these players.”

Grassroots anecdotal evidence tells me that this is a trend that’s only going to grow. My granddaughter made friends with a girl at the playground yesterday who had just had a featured role in the fourth-grade musical. 

“At recess, me and my friends mostly talking about singing and dancing and YouTube videos,” the young lady told us out of the blue as I pushed the two in a tandem swing. “And gaming.”

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