As the Overwatch League enters its fourth season, the story of the league from its highs to its lows can be told by the numbers around it. Here are six numbers to keep in mind while watching the league this year.
Multiple sources said Blizzard is asking for a $20 million franchise fee for the league featuring its popular 2016 game, with prices escalating from there in larger markets such as New York and Los Angeles. However, following the $20 million buy-in, teams are not guaranteed revenue sharing until after 2021 and only if Blizzard meets certain criteria that sources did not disclose to ESPN. Additionally, sources said if a team sells its spot to another party, the league would receive 25 percent of the proceeds.
Overwatch was released last year and, as of January, has 20 million players worldwide, according to Blizzard. The only established major esports leagues featuring the game are OGN APEX in South Korea and Overwatch Premier Series in China.
The $20 million evaluation is significantly higher than any buy-in into an esports league in the United States. A spot in the League Championship Series for Riot Games' League of Legends, the most popular game in the world and one of the most established esports leagues, sold for $1.8 million in December.
Recently, several organizations have pulled back from fielding Overwatch teams in other leagues. In January, Overwatch startup Reunited dropped its team because of financial problems and uncertainty surrounding Overwatch League. More recently, Team SoloMid parted ways with six of its Overwatch players after learning more information about the cost of joining Overwatch League, according to former player Taylor \"b1am\" Forrest. Additionally, Splyce, invested in by the parent organization of the Boston Bruins and TD Garden, announced it released its Overwatch team on Tuesday, though the org cites they had been talking internally about the release for a few weeks. One source told ESPN that he believes more organizations will soon drop their teams for similar reasons.
Sources said the price is the sticking point, but the game and league are still desirable to teams. Blizzard said earlier this year that Overwatch League was scheduled to launch in late 2017, but some organizations have expressed doubt whether the league will launch on time, given the current state of the negotiation.
Activision Blizzard first announced its intention to launch the Overwatch League at its annual BlizzCon convention in November. The league is set to have geolocated franchises, with each team having a city association similar to traditional American sports leagues, such as the NFL, NBA and MLB. Blizzard has hoped to attract interest from sports investors who are affiliated with traditional sports franchises.
Activision Blizzard is still owed between $390 and $420 million in franchise payments from teams participating in the Overwatch and Call of Duty Leagues after it deferred payments for two years as COVID-19 relief, league sources told The Jacob Wolf Report this week.
Annual payments for both leagues were deferred in fall 2020 when Activision Blizzard pushed them to fall 2022 as a part of its COVID relief measures for teams, according to The Washington Post and confirmed by The Jacob Wolf Report. There is an ongoing discussion now to potentially put those payments off longer, potentially to early 2024, sources said. Activision Blizzard declined to comment on Friday.
In 2017, the Overwatch League charged its original 12 franchises $20 million each, according to an ESPN report, becoming the most expensive esports league at the time. In 2018, the league sold eight expansion slots at prices ranging from $27 to $35 million, sources said.
In the Call of Duty League, teams owe an average of $22.5 million each, sources said\\u2014after making just the initial payment for the league, about $2.5 million, prior to the COVID outbreak in 2020. Payment terms for Call of Duty varied, with the franchise price starting at $25 million, as reported by ESPN.
Since Activision Blizzard courted investors between 2016 and 2019, the esports business has changed significantly, as have the leagues themselves. The pandemic scrapped the Overwatch League\\u2019s extravagant home-and-away model just two months into its rollout. The Call of Duty League, which planned a similar traveling road show around the U.S., London and Paris, was forced to nix its events plans as well.
The Overwatch League (OWL) is a professional esports league for the video game Overwatch, produced by its developer, Blizzard Entertainment. The Overwatch League follows the model of other traditional North American professional sporting leagues by using a set of permanent, city-based teams backed by separate ownership groups.
The league uses the regular season and playoffs format rather than promotion and relegation used commonly in other esports and non-North American leagues, with players on the roster being assured a minimum annual salary, benefits, and a portion of winnings and revenue-sharing based on team performance. The league was announced in 2016 with its inaugural season taking place in 2018.
The Overwatch League is owned by Blizzard Entertainment and run by Major League Gaming, which is also owned by Blizzard's parent company Activision Blizzard. The Overwatch League plays out similar to most North American professional sports leagues, in which all teams play scheduled games against other teams to vie for position in the season's playoffs, rather than the approach of team promotion and relegation more commonly used in other esports leagues. The league currently features twenty teams split between two conferences based on their location: East and West. The East will have eight teams, while the West will have twelve.
The 2018 season consisted of non-regulation pre-season play, a regular season divided into four stages, and a post-season playoffs tournament to determine the championship team for the season. Each regular season stage lasted five weeks, with each stage ending with a short playoff of the top teams based on that stage's records to determine stage champions. Teams played 40 matches across the regular season, playing teams both within and outside their division. The post-season playoffs used teams' overall standings across all stages. The top standing team in both divisions received the top two seed in the playoffs, followed by a fixed number of teams determined from across both divisions. An All-Star weekend is also held, featuring two division-based teams selected by league representatives and voted on by fans.
Overwatch League games are played on a custom server controlled by Blizzard; this server is also available to players for practices. This version of the game receives similar updates to the main commercial game, adding new maps and heroes, and altering the various hero abilities based on testing within the Public Test Realm. However, these updates are not applied immediately as they are for the commercial game, but instead no more frequent than once every six weeks. For example, a late January 2018 patch, which had significant effects on characters like Mercy and thus had potential to upset the metagame, was not applied to the league server until mid-February, at the start of the second stage. However, teams are given access to private servers updated to alongside the main release of Overwatch for them to practice and scrimmage against other teams to learn and develop strategies on updates and patches before experiencing them in official matches. For matches, each player is provided with an identical desktop computer, monitor, and pair of noise-cancelling headphones to play on to eliminate any handicaps related to computational or graphics processing, but players may use their preferred keyboard and mouse.
While Overwatch is played in teams of five, Overwatch League teams can have up to six additional players that can be swapped between maps. A team's membership is locked at the start of the season, but a mid-season signing period allows teams to bring in new players or trade players between teams. Following the end of the season, teams have about one month to extend current player contracts, bring on players from affiliated Overwatch Contenders teams, or hold private tryout sessions. Subsequently, all unsigned players by the end of this period enter free agency during which players can negotiate with teams to become part of the roster; in the case of when expansion teams are added, there is a month-long period where expansion teams have exclusive negotiating rights before other teams can engage. A team's minimum roster is to be set prior to the season's pre-season matches, about two months prior to season play, but they can expand and change this roster up until a specified date. The league is not region-locked, so teams can use players of any nationality to fill their ranks, as long as the team ownership is based in that city or region. For example, the London Spitfire at the onset of the first season was entirely made up of South Korean players. The only restriction on players is to be of at least 17 years old and to be able to travel internationally. 781b155fdc