Overwatch League, NBA 2K League Establish eSports Profile

In November 2016, Blizzard announced it was creating the Overwatch League, the first-ever eSports venture to model itself after professional North American sports, with franchised teams in major cities, salaried athletes and live spectator events. This was in the early days of “Overwatch,” a first-person shooter, team-based game, which had already accrued die-hard fans when it was in beta. The game, an “optimistic” battle between heroes and AI robots, has become a huge hit, with more than 35 million players and more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

Wired reports that Blizzard global director of research and consumer insights Nate Nanzer came up with the idea of a league. “If we structure a league the right way and put the right investment behind it, we can actually monetize it in a way that’s not too dissimilar from traditional sports,” he said. The possibilities for monetizing the league were huge: “ticket sales, media rights, licensing” as well as “team-based virtual merchandise.”

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“We are literally building a new sport,” said Nanzer, who is now the league’s commissioner. “We’re trying to build this as a sustainable sports league for decades and decades to come.”

The response from the traditional sports world has been strong. Former NFL Network chief executive Steve Bornstein, who was also former president of ABC Sports and “early architect” of ESPN, is now Blizzard’s eSports chair. Other sports leaders who have thrown in their lot with Overwatch are New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is now the co-owner of the Boston Overwatch franchise and New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, now owner of the New York Overwatch franchise. Comcast, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers, is also now the owner of Philadelphia’s Overwatch team.

Blizzard will not release how much it costs to buy a league franchise, “but the reports are $20 million.” The Overwatch League, whose average fan is 21 years old, launches with nine U.S. teams and teams from Shanghai, Seoul and London.

Engadget reports that NBA 2K League managing director Brendan Donahue has released details about recruiting for the “officially sanctioned” league set to debut in May. The first stage, which takes place throughout January, is “open to any 18-or-older player in the world with a copy of ‘NBA 2K18′ for PS4 or Xbox One, whether they’re solo or part of a team” and if they have won “at least 50 games in the Pro-Am mode.”

That first round, says Donahue, is about showing “commitment” to the game. In February, the league will conduct “in depth” scouting, and, in March, “the 17 teams will draft their players for the full-fledged competition.” Those accepted will have to move to the city that drafts them.