I’m no esports historian, but I am sure that we have never, in the history of our dear community, seen investments and marketing budgets like what is to be put into full motion this week.
By all accounts, the 12 franchised OWL teams have at least $240 million invested into Overwatch League. We’ve already seen major sponsors sign on like Intel and HP (who seem to be bankrolling half of esports at the moment, but I digress), and there are many more to come. The billionaire team owners have contacts at Coke, McDonald’s, T-Mobile, and Ford up their sleeves I’m sure.
And we know that OWL is not just the next big esports project from Blizzard, but that it has the full backing of Activision-Blizzard and even ATVI CEO Bobby Kotick himself. You’ve gotta imagine ATVI will have thrown in a cool hundred million of their own cash into marketing, prize pools, production, venue costs, salaries, and so on, by the end of the first season (note: ATVI’s market cap has nearly doubled in the last 12 months, no doubt in large part to Overwatch’s success).
You better believe that Bobby has connections. This is the man who has personally pitched mainstream sports magnate and Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft, bringing him in on the ground floor of the Overwatch League with Boston’s franchise slot.
Investment in esports have grown exponentially since 2009 and, somehow, people seem to have become jaded by the influx (see: deluge) cash into esports coming from venture capitalists, mainstream sports owners and players, and the entertainment world particularly in the last 3 years. But the list of billionaires and multi-national corporations who’ve already bought in to OWL is nothing short of a revolution. The launch of OWL will likely be remembered in the history books as the moment esports truly went mainstream.
Overall, I suspect at least 400–500 million dollars will be spent on Overwatch esports in the next few years. Some will argue that the dollar investment into OWL will be its downfall when the return on investment doesn’t pan out… and they might be right. Only time will tell. But (hey guys, its me again, not-esports-historian-guy) it is no exaggeration to say that esports is about to be exposed to more new eyeballs with the launch of OWL than at any other preceding moment in esports history. If someone knows more than I do on this topic please let me know, but I’m fairly certain even Riot has never had a huge marketing budget to push LoL esports.
But as we all know, money is useless without the right people to channel it into results.
2. The People
OWL is stacked with talented people. Not just the players, but the supporting casts up and down the board. Let’s walk through it:
The Overwatch esports team at Activision-Blizzard has been on a hiring spree. According to OWL Commissioner Nate Nanzer (*ahem* on the podcast I co-host), at least a few hundred people will be involved in OWL on Blizzard’s end alone. Between the MLG staff, Blizzard esports transfers, and newly hired talent, they’ve brought on a well-rounded group of some of the most accomplished veteran esports mainstays that could possibly exist (Alchemist, for example, actually pre-dates the term ‘esports’ all together). Hires from outside of esports, some coming from traditional sports, some coming from the world of research and consumer insights, should give a fresh perspective and institutional knowledge from their worlds. I’ll admit to a slight bias here because I consider at least a half dozen of the Overwatch esports team as close personal friends, and many of the rest at least as respected peers. But I have a lot of faith in these folks.
OWL’s on-air roster encompasses many of the esports hosting greats from the last 5–10 years, from League of Legends (slash StarCraft 2… only OGs remember) in Monte + Doa, MLG’s pretty boys Chris Pucket and MrX from Call of Duty and Halo, Dota 2 / general hosting badassery in Soe, and of course, who could forget, the world-renowned Battlefield 4 commentator Uber. Rumor has it that we’ll see famous Bloodline Champion…. er, CS:GO commentator Semmler make the switch soon as well.
Literally no other host or commentator in esports could give you a moment like Monte’s double heel turn at the World Cup… pure genius as far as I’m concerned. I truly think Uber is one of the best play-by-play commentators in esports, full stop. I don’t understand how his brain works at all, his in-jokes, references, and memorable one-liners are often hard to catch they are spouted so damn fast, mate.
I could go on, but this is already getting too long. My only suggestion to the Blizzard/OWL gods is that we see current/former pro players rotated in frequently to bring deeper analysis, which I’d argue is lacking at the moment.
Despite the nascence of Overwatch esports, we have a ton of popular, well spoken, and wildly entertaining pro players. Have you ever watched a a saebyeolbe stream? If not, you’ve missed out on the hilarious misadventures of the OneNippleMan as he conquests the NA ladder, overflowing with positivity, comedy, and broken Korean-English all in equal doses. Seagull’s instantaneous 20,000+ concurrent viewers any time he streams, ever, probably go without saying. Ever heard Jake wax poetic on podcasts or via his blog? He makes me feel intellectually inferior just about every damn time I hear from him (ok maybe a personal problem here). Follow Finland’s Taimou as he cycles between his boisterous ups (PMA) and shocking downs (NMA) and you’ll get more drama than a soap opera. And who couldn’t just adore Thailand’s Mickie? Seriously, he’s just about the most lovable pro player I could imagine, alongside Dendi or Pascha.
My point is, we’ve got a hugely diverse and marketable pool of players where NA, EU, Korea, even SEA, LatAm and OCE have decent representation. This is rare in esports, I think.
Finally we find the franchised teams, who have cumulatively hired at least a hundred supporting staffers (some well, some not so well) including analysts, coaches, psychiatrists, nutrition specialists, video editors, social media managers, GMs and more.
All of these folks play a part in Overwatch esports. All of these folks will be trying their hardest to make a mark.