By Barry Janoff
November 4, 2016: Blizzard Entertainment, already a major player on the eSports landscape, plans to expand its presence with Overwatch League, a multi-platform competition based on its popular Overwatch team-based shooter game.
The inaugural season of the Overwatch League is scheduled to begin in 2017.
Blizzard said Overwatch League would resemble in many ways professional sports leagues, with Overwatch League teams representing major cities from different regions.
The unveiling of the league came with an intro spot that featured a guest appearance by tennis icon Serena Williams.
"Esports is so cool!" Williams wrote on her Twitter page. "Very excited to be a part of the #Overwatch League launch! Check me out." She provided a link to the intro Overwatch League spot.
An official Web site was "built from the ground up to usher in a new era of competitive gaming," according to BLizzard.
Additional marketing support is being planned.
Overwatch, which debuted this past May, has more than 20 million players, according to Blizzard, which was a major catalyst in jump-starting the league.
"The Overwatch League represents not only the pinnacle of Overwatch competition, but also a genuine career opportunity for the most skilled Overwatch players," Mike Morhaime, CEO and co-founder for Blizzard Entertainment, told media and fans during BlizzCon on Friday in the Anaheim (CA) Convention Center. "We’re building a league that’s accessible to players and fans, sustainable, and exciting for everyone involved."
According to Blizzard, "The Overwatch League will focus on long-term stability for teams as well as opportunities for players to establish the types of professional careers associated with traditional sports." Once these city-based teams have been admitted to the league, "their spots will be secured, giving them the best opportunity to grow and thrive for years to come."
Also similar to combines that such pro leagues as the NFL, NBA and MLB use to evaluate athletes, Blizzard said that at the start of the season it would host a combine, where eligible players who have previously distinguished themselves in competition will be invited to try out for teams.
Players at the combine will be evaluated across a range of tests, giving teams the opportunity to sign those who best round out their rosters. Anyone picked up by a team during the signing period will be guaranteed a contract that includes a baseline minimum salary and benefits package, according to Blizzard, a division of Activision Blizzard.
Blizzard teased the Overwatch League with a mini-tournament earlier this year in alliance with eLeague, the venture launched by Turner Sports and marketing and talent agency WME | IMG, which is currently in its second season and broadcast weekly on TBS.
Blizzard said that team announcements and additional Overwatch League information would be shared in the coming months. "In the meantime, players who aspire to compete in the Overwatch League should continue making a name for themselves in Overwatch."
Other Blizzard platforms include World of Warcraft, Hearthstone; the Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo franchises; and the multi-franchise Heroes of the Storm.
The launch of Overwatch League represents part of what has become eSport’s burgeoning growth.
Among U.S. men ages 21 to 35, eSports "is as popular as baseball & ice hockey," with 22% watching eSports frequently, according to Why Sports And Brands Want To Be In eSports, a new study from research, consulting and marketing firm NewZoo, San Francisco.
Occasional viewers in the U.S. will reach 144 million this year, with 148 million enthusiasts. Those numbers will grow to 212 million casual viewers and 215 million enthusiasts in 2019, according to NewZoo.
In dollars and cents, revenue is expected to reach $493 million this year and top $1.1 billion in 2019, per NewZoo.
A separate study from NewZoo, supported by a report from Juniper Research, indicted that eSports audiences worldwide could reach NFL levels by 2017.
Mainstream, non-endemic brands in the eSports landscape include Coca-Cola, Xfinity, Buffalo Wild Wings, General Mills, Vodafone, Sansung, Arby’s, Intel, MasterCard and Geico.
Turner Sports, ESPN, Fox, BBC, Yahoo and Sky Sports are among the media companies that have invested in the eSports category.
New Study Shows eSports Nearing Pro Sports Levels In Marketing, Money
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