ESPORTS EVOLUTION TO PRO SPORTS PART 2: BLIZZARD'S NFL
"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others" - Jonathan Swift
"The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision" - Hellen Keller
Vision is really what everyone is looking for.
Why won’t she text me back? Will I get the job? What is up with the Cowboys?
But it’s almost impossible to get right. Life needs to be lived forward but can only be understood backwards.
Apologies for the attempt at Orwell but the vision for Blizzard’s new Overwatch League is beyond anything that has occurred in eSports to date.
Turner’s E LEAGUE took eSports from the hand pulled cart to the electric car.
Blizzard’s Overwatch League is trying to take us from the electric car to the Space Shuttle.
While it makes for a very easy headline, it's true: Blizzard is trying to establish the NFL for eSports.
The vision for the Overwatch League is truly outstanding and while not much was revealed at Blizzcon 2016 outside of the initial news; the amount of Professional Team owners, titans of technology and basically Billionaire’s that attended shows the importance of the league's potential.
Here's what’s been revealed from the release and from those that I’ve spoken with:
/01 PERMANENT TEAMS
TNL TAKE: When Pro Team owners or VC’s buy or invest in eSports, what are they actually buying?
If you buy the New England Patriot’s, you get a decade’s long brand with a loyal fan base, a spot in the only league where you can watch Professional football, God’s Son as your QB and a years of infrastructure.
If you buy a team in Riot’s League of Legends, you’re basically taking a gamble that you don’t get relegated and lose your potential $1M investment that got you there – just ask NRG eSports or Schalke 04.
Promotion and relegation work in the English Premier League because it’s been established for over a hundred years; it’s just too risky for League of Legends team owners right now.
But why do they take that risk?
Because League of Legends is the NFL + NBA + EPL of eSports – it’s by far the biggest eSports title, with the largest global fan base and revenues.
Which in turn increases the valuations of eSports teams.
The Overwatch league is trying to provide not only the brand and slot but also reduce the Riot risk.
CHALLENGES: Overwatch is clearly the #1 new eSports title for 2016 – yet it didn’t exist 7 months ago. Will it last as long as Counter-Strike?
I saw kids playing Counter-Strike on basically old toasters in Fiji back in 2001.
League of Legends has spent years building up their game, fans, viewing experience and events.
So here’s your bet: Risk millions on a brand new game, hope it becomes the next League of Legends and get a great return on your initial investment.
/02 LOCAL TEAMS
I live in New York.
There are some bars where if you walk in with a Red Sox hat on, you may not leave happy - and vice-versa in Boston.
If there’s anything close to a geographical rivalry in eSports it’s between countries and depending on the games, it’s really between about 10 countries.
I’m not even going to get into the South Koreans and Chinese are the best at eSports – there are only a million articles on that.
So I’ll continue to use the same equation: If eSports does reach its full potential + Become one of the next top Sports viewership = Then local fan bases eventually will happen.
Are fans of OpTic Gaming only in Chicago? Are fans of Team EnVyUs only in Charlotte?
Absolutely not but I give credit to both team owners Hector and Mike for starting to establish their cities as their team’s true home.
CHALLENGES: Can a fan base be built up quickly enough to support something that most of the public is completely unfamiliar with? Probably not.
But you're either in eSports for the long term or you're not.
/03 MOVE AWAY FROM PRIZE POOLS
TNL Take: Blizzard’s said that “No one talks about prize pools in the World Cup or the Super Bowl"
That's because Cristiano Ronaldo makes €15M a year and Cam Newton made $50M+ across the board in the NFL. Further, the Patriots got $97,000 each for winning the Super Bowl on top of their $100M+ salary.
So the notion to move away from Prize Pools as the big driver of eSports when compared to traditional sports is a bit quixotic.
But Blizzard has said they will provide minimal salaries and most of the benefits that come with traditional sports.
Challenges: Let's wait to see what the Athletes will actually get.
TNL Take: A normal schedule is one of the most critical things needed in eSports today.
Unfortunately with the fractured landscape and the land grab that everyone is trying to get; you have too many events at the same time.
This leads to lower viewership because there’s too much content out there.
Ultimately, viewership is what’s going to matter the most because broadcast rights coupled with advertising will drive the majority of revenue years from now.
Challenges: Nothing. Thank You.
TNL Take: Continuing the trend of copying the NFL, Blizzard is literally calling their version of an amateur combine....a combine.
I think this is one of the least appreciated aspects of the league. Instead of having no consistent organized system to rank eSports amateurs, this essentially solves the problem for Overwatch League owners and benefits Blizzard further.
This should drive Overwatch engagement as those amateurs will need to "qualify" for the combine in order for a chance to be drafted onto a team.
CHALLENGES: None. Smart.
/06 THE MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
TNL Take: There are a ton of unanswered questions around the new Overwatch League.
I'm glad that Blizzard is taking their time with this and not officially launching till 2018, with a short initial run at the end of 2017.
But the biggest question of them all: How much is it going to cost?
The current valuations for eSports teams has skyrocketed in 2016 even with a lot of volatility.
With the amount of money and effort that Blizzard will need to put into the Overwatch league to ensure the stability, it's probably going to come with a hefty price.
I have no idea on what the price is but I'm going to throw out a range: $5-$10M
So what's that mean from an investment perspective?
For a Billionaire or consortium of investors, you could probably find $10M in your couch.
Theranos raised almost $700M from investors of which their return will be equivalent to the efficacy of their testing.
I watched Moneyball again to make sure that Bobby Kotick didn't have telescopes instead of eyes.
Either the Overwatch League is going to be a bit early and fail or Blizzard and Bobby are going to be hailed as visionaries.
"It always seems impossible until it's done" - Nelson Mandela