Long before I became a freelance sports writer for Win Column Sports, I ran my own Esports organization called Hysteria Esports.
It didn’t work.
I was a college kid with no funding that was trying to compete in games against million dollar companies. I’m proud to say that I did house at least one professional League of Legends player under my organization at one point. He doesn’t remember who I am, but I remember who he was!
Esports for me has always been a passion. I played competitive Call of Duty throughout high school, and while I didn’t make it to the top, I would like to believe me and my team were considered one of the best amateur teams in the game. We would win some many, land some sponsors and even come close to playing in the Call of Duty World Championships for $1,000,000.
Fast forward not even five years and Esports is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. One league near the top of the hierarchy? The Overwatch League, or OWL. Overwatch is a first-person shooter game made by Blizzard Entertainment, a subdivision of Activision.
What is the OWL?
The OWL is the first big North American Esports to follow the traditional model set forward by North American professional sporting leagues. Usually, teams are made up of organizations that are housed all over the world, some of the biggest names in Esports are Cloud9 (USA), Fnatic (Europe) and T1 (Korea). The OWL is the first league to use the traditional model of having home cities. For example, there are two teams in Los Angeles - the Gladiators and the Valiant.
Blizzard went at the creation of this concept hard. It wasn’t easy, though, as the beginning of the league had high start-up costs of $20M per slot, and Blizzard couldn’t promise any revenue sharing until 2021. Those two combined factors made it hard for the league to attract owners. They kept with it, though, and they landed their first big owner in Robert Kraft, owner of the Kraft Group (more famously known for owning the New England Patriots). Kraft would be the first owner of the OWL league. His city would be Boston, and thus the Boston Uprising would be formed.
This led to a snowball effect and the OWL league was created with an initial 12 teams. Overwatch was the first Esports to truly take advantage of in-game cosmetic items as Blizzard to create a home and away skin set for all the teams in the OWL that included team names/logos.
Over the first season, the OWL acquired over $200,000,0000USD in sponsorships and broadcast rights; major sponsors included HP Omen, Toyota, T-Mobile, Spotify, and Intel.
During the first pre-season, OWL games were solely streamed through Blizzard’s website and it’s sibling company Major League Gaming. However, just prior to the launch of the regular season, Blizzard and Twitch established a two-year, $90,000,000USD deal for Twitch to become the official third-party stream broadcaster of the OWL.
Before the playoffs, Blizzard would land another huge broadcasting deal as they would announce a multi-year partnership with ESPN, Disney XD, and ABC. This included a weekly pre-game show called Watchpoint. Finally, they would announce a partnership with Fanatics to become the official outfitter of the OWL.
Currently, the OWL has twenty teams, creating two divisions.
New York Excelsior
Pacific Division consisting of:
Los Angeles Gladiators
Los Angeles Valiant
San Francisco Shock
Now, where does that leave Edmonton?
Could the City of Champions ever get into the OWL? It’s too soon to tell. Currently, there are no plans for an expansion to Edmonton that I know of. However, let’s hypothetically draw one up. I’m not going to suggest any names because I’m simply not good at that. Maybe they swoop in and take up the Edmonton Empire before the Eskimos’ change their name to it.
Edmonton already has good grassroots Esports with events and venues such as Fragapalooza and OverKlocked LAN centre. Check both of those out if you haven’t already and you live in the Edmonton area!
Toronto and Vancouver just recently expanded in 2019, so there’s for sure interest in Canadian markets. It’s whether or not how small of a market they would like to get into. Edmonton has a plethora of venues that OWL team could use already if they didn’t want to build a new one. The Edmonton Expo Centre and even to another degree Northlands Coliseum are both venues that could home an OWL team.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens as the OWL will be currently looking to expand to at least 8 more markets as the goal of the league is to be at 28 teams. Will Edmonton be one of those? Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t hold my breath!
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