Earlier this year, Blizzard announced huge plans for Overwatch’s e-sports aspirations. The biggest move was a huge investment into the Overwatch League, the official home for all things Overwatch and e-sports.
What sets this apart from everything else is its global structure. Rather than just representing countries, teams can plant a flag in a specific city. In a regular season, you could see New York battling against Shanghai, for example. It is something that has never been attempted in videogames as a spectator sport, requiring huge investments from third-parties to even get off the ground.
It works like this: a team owner purchases a position in the league, then they select a city of their choice to represent. Like with regular sports, these teams will eventually have a home stadium that draws massive crowds for the big events. They will also have the option of hosting five amateur events at the stadiums each year.
It has the potential to be huge. Overwatch is played by more than 20 million people around the world. The first Overwatch World Cup at Blizzcon 2016 was watched by more than 100,000 people, and over 3.1 million votes were cast for the players of that tournament. These one-off events will surely increase the interest in that main event: the Overwatch League.
The fact that Overwatch is easy to understand and watch could easily draw in viewers from outside of this 20 million install base as well. For those who don’t enjoy the twitch-based excitement of CS:GO, or those who can’t penetrate something as complex as LoL, Overwatch sits in an exciting middle ground. The fact that players can change character mid-match also makes it one of the most dynamic, reactive e-sports around.
On top of all this, Overwatch has seen huge success on console. While most of the big e-sports are PC-only titles, Overwatch has a mass appeal that could tap into a completely new market of people who have never tried videogames as a spectator sport. Blizzard is clearly banking on all these elements to boost the success of its Overwatch League once all the teams are in place, the battle lines are drawn, and the huge investments are all accounted for. Whatever happens, the next couple of years are going to be very interesting.