pictured above: Overwatch's newest hero, Doomfist (credit: Activision/Blizzard)
Anyone who's played a videogame has wished they could get paid for it, but very few of have the actual title of "professional gamer". More than just a game to some, being a true eSports professional requires constant effort, energy, and focus, most of the time without any of the benefits that professional athletes receive.
I've discussed the success Overwatch has received in just a year's time, and after announcing they would form a league in 2016, Blizzard has almost all the pieces together for a late 2017-early 2018 season opening.
There are 7 teams from cities across the globe who will compete:
-Boston, Massachusetts, USA
-New York City, New York, USA
-Los Angeles, California, USA
-San Francisco, California, USA
-Miami-Orlando, Florida, USA
-Seoul, South Korea
These are just the starting locations, as Overwatch hopes to include more once the league launches and more interest is garnered by both sponsors and fans.
"We're building this league for fans– esports fans, traditional sport fans, gaming fans– and we're thrilled to have individuals and organizations who are as passionate about professional competition as we are," Blizzard Entertainment CEO Mike Morhaime stated in a press release.
ALL of Overwatch's 30MN players are being considered as free agents, and can be picked up by any League team no matter past affiliations or other teams they might have been on. Each team must have six players but no more than 12, can be on a team that is not their home country or city (also known as region-locking), and the sponsors of the teams will provide housing and practice areas as set by the Overwatch League guidelines.
On the East Coast, the Boston team is owned by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. New York City's team is being sponsored by the COO of the New York Mets Jeff Wilpon, who is the son of owner Fred Wilpon. Heading down to Florida, the Miami team is owned by Ben Spoont, owner of the Misfits eSports team and partner with the NBA's Miami Heat. They already compete in tournaments around Counter-Strike, League of Legends and Nintendo's Super Smash Bros.
Over on the West Coast, the L.A team is owned by Noah Winston, CEO of another eSports organization, Immortals. That organization already covers eSports leagues in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Smash, and is owned in part by Peter Levin of Lionsgate Interactive Ventures, Steve Kaplan of Oaktree Capital, and other venture-backed entities. Up to San Francisco, the regional team is owned by Andy Miller, former President of Mobile Advertising at Apple and current co-owner of the Sacramento Kings basketball team. He also is the co-owner to another eSports team, NRG.
Across the Pacific, the Shanghai team is sponsored by Chinese internet company NetEase Inc. (NTS), who is a licensee of Blizzard and other developers internationally. NetEase has messaging, email, community gaming and forum services and helps games such as StarCraft, World of Warcraft, and the Diablo series gain footing in Asia.
Lastly, Seoul's team is owned by Kevin Chou, CEO of eSports team KSV and former CEO of Kabam games.
In the Overwatch League Player Agreement, once signed to a team, players will receive the following benefits:
– 1-year guaranteed contract, with a year extension option
– Minimum salary requirement of $50,000 USD per year
– Health insurance and a retirement savings plan
– 50% of team winnings and bonuses to be distributed to the players, not kept by the sponsors
Overwatch is already promising $3.5MN in total bonus pay, with $1MN of that going directly to whoever becomes champion of Season 1.
All in all, this is the most legitimate attempt to make eSports a facet of the major sporting event industry. Often players don't receive any pay or benefits, and have to shell out their own money for travel and health expenses such as carpal tunnel. Meager winnings don't help either, and most eSports players have to supplment their interest in gaming by finding other jobs or means of revenue.
With professional sports backing as well as the support of already established eSports sponsors, it'll be interesting to see how big Overwatch League and eSports can get in the coming years.
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