After a very successful inaugural season (though if you are a fan of the winless Shanghai Dragons, you may disagree), it was no surprise to hear a further eight teams were added for next year’s second Overwatch League season.
Last week’s announcement revealed that in addition to the two new franchises that had already been announced in Atlanta and Guangzhou, they would be joined in by franchises based in Toronto, Vancouver, Washington D.C, Paris, Hangzhou, and Chengdu.
Taking on one of these new franchises was not cheap. It was widely reported that for the first season, owners paid around $20 million to secure a team. For the eight new teams, the owners reportedly spent anywhere between $30 million to $60 million for the right to compete under the new franchise name next season. Team names have yet to be announced. Expect those closer to the start of the season.
Who owns each of the new franchises?
None of the new franchises are under individual ownership. Here are the organizations and business groups.
- Atlanta – Cox Enterprises and Province Inc.
- Guanzhou – Nenking Group
- Vancouver – Aquillini Group
- Hangzhou – Bilibili
- Chengdu – HUYA Inc.
- Paris – DM Esports
- Washington D.C – Washington Esports Ventures
- Toronto – OverActive Media
How will the new franchises acquire players?
Of course, one of the biggest issues facing any new team is finding the right players. To help them achieve this, Blizzard set a deadline of Sept. 9 for the existing teams in the Overwatch League to re-sign any players they want to keep on their roster for Season 2.
It proved to be a hectic period. Most teams made significant changes and released several players. Shanghai Dragons, unsurprisingly, released the most: eight players from their roster found themselves as free agents.
After this deadline, none of the existing teams are permitted to sign any players. Now through Oct. 7, only the eight expansion teams can sign any players not yet under contract. Furthermore, the expansion franchises can sign players who have performed well in Overwatch Contenders and the Overwatch World Cup tournaments.
All teams need to have at least eight players signed up by Dec. 1.
Why expand further?
The popularity of the Overwatch League’s first season proved to be a winner for Blizzard. The company was criticized in some quarters for their adoption of a franchise-model for the league. Admittedly, it eschewed the grass-roots esports model and openly touted for business from wealthy companies and individuals.
However, the success of the first season and the number of expansion teams for the second shows there is a real hunger for more. Further expansion paves the way for Blizzard’s eventual plan to move away from its central hub for games (the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles.) The organizer aims for teams to eventually travel for home and away games in the host cities, comparable to professional sports.
The Overwatch League now includes a total of 20 teams. Eleven are based in the United States, two in Canada, one in the UK, one in France, one in South Korea, and four in China.
Looking at this layout, you can clearly see that if Blizzard’s plan for team travel and divisions should come to fruition, then Season 3 could necessitate several more Europe and Asia-based squads.
All that said, I would argue Blizzard needs to be very proactive in decentralising the Overwatch League from Los Angeles and into each of the cities the team represents as soon as possible. Any delay could well be fatal to the company’s hopes of further expansion.
Ensuring Overwatch remains relevant
Blizzard’s first Overwatch League season was always likely to be a success given the level of investment and the massive media hype surrounding the league’s creation. This was a relatively new way to organize esports. In turn, fans showed a keen interest in how the teams were progressing.
To really capitalise on the league, though, Blizzard knows fans will need to be able to come and watch their team in action. It’s much harder to appeal to an esports fan based in Paris, London or Seoul to support their “local” team when said team plays thousands of miles away in Los Angeles or New York and never ventures anywhere near their host city.
This barrier is my concern for the long-term future of the Overwatch League. Fans are not going to flock to support London Spitfires, for example, unless the team has some relevance and presence in their home city.
Some Overwatch cities may already have a dedicated venue suitable to host games. Others may require a specialist venue to be built. The latter would be a drain on the finances of the franchise owners.
For me, this expansion needs a solid foundation to withstand the pressure from the top. Fan investment and infrastructure are just flat-out more important than expanding the league further.
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