July 20, 2017 / By Jesse Steinberg
Last week, our client partner, Activision Blizzard announced the first seven team sales for the Overwatch League – with the likes of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, and popular esports teams Immortals, NRG and Misfits all getting inon the action. Let’s take a closer look at what the new league means for the industry and PR/brand marketing teams.
What is Overwatch League?
In short, it’s the first major global, city-based professional esports league that combines the unique capabilities and best practices of traditional sports and esports. The first seven cities and team owners are:
• Boston: Robert Kraft, Chairman & CEO of the Kraft Group, owner of New England Patriots
• New York: Jeff Wilpon, COO of New York Mets, Co-Founder and Partner of Sterling.VC
• San Francisco: Andy Miller, Chairman, and Founder of NRG Esports
• Seoul: Kevin Chou, co-founder of Kabam
• Los Angeles: Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals
• Shanghai: NetEase, a Chinese internet technology company
• Miami-Orlando: Ben Spoont, CEO, and co-founder of Misfits Gaming
What does the introduction of the Overwatch League mean for the esports industry?
1. Combining the best in esports with the best in traditional sports
By leveraging best practices from traditional sports and endemics in the Overwatch League, no league is better positioned for success. Traditional sports have given us decades of competition that connects hundreds of millions of people and leaders in the industry like Robert Kraft and Jeff Wilpon, who will provide the necessary expertise on building great teams as the Overwatch League expands. On the other side, esports teams have a winning record at building online fan communities and developing talent. The finished product is a win-win for all parties involved, including brands and the fans they engage.
2. The world’s first city-based pro esports league
Esports have inherently always been a global sport – there are no borders that stop people from playing competitive video games with other people from the other side of the world. Now with Overwatch League, Activision Blizzard is taking a proven model from traditional sports and organizing competition by cities. This will create and boost fan engagement by amplifying competition, with fans rooting for their local team and connecting with a strong local fan community. The league’s long-term vision is for team owners to establish local venues for competition, develop local revenue sources, like gate sales, concessions, local merchandise sales – all of which are “firsts” in the esports industry.
3. “Home” and “away” esports matches
Overwatch League’s city-based structure will be the first esports league that allows teams to host “home” games in their cities. Teams in the league will feature a true home-and-away-based format – another cue taken from the traditional sports model – with teams traveling globally to play in competitor venues during the regular season.
What does it all mean for brand marketers interested in esports?
After years of esports exclusively being covered in trade outlets like Dot Esports, Slingshot Esports, PC Gamer, etc., esports is now starting to be covered in top-tier, national consumer outlets, like USA Today, Forbes and Fortune all covering the recent Overwatch League announcement. ESPN even launched its esports vertical in January 2016. The trend toward major press covering esports news, tournaments and announcements will only continue to grow, providing PR professionals with more earned media opportunities (and higher numbers of people reading content) along the way and resulting in more broader exposure for brands invested in the sport.
Esports will achieve more than $1 billion in revenue by 2020, and the industry is seeing rapid growth in interest and investment from sponsors, investors, and consumers. Overwatch League provides an opportunity for sponsors to see their value grow with the industry, with the goal to integrate global and regional/local sponsors as a part of the league. Think of it this way: people spent more than 43 billion hours playing and watching Activision Blizzard games in 2016, which was even before Overwatch League existed.
Brands often search for the “next big thing” or the established veteran when it comes to celebrity endorsements or sponsorship deals and a common space to look is traditional sports. With the rise of esports and the global nature of Overwatch League, now global esports stars will flourish – stars that will reach the coveted younger demographic around the world. The brand sponsor space will become more crowded as time goes on, so moving forward with an opportunity to sponsor something like Overwatch League or a local franchise (especially for a non-endemic brand) is a way to get in on the ground level of something that will be highly valuable for years to come.
The announcement of the Overwatch League will continue to be seen as a defining moment in the esports landscape, and it will continue to make waves throughout various other industries, including traditional sports, tech, PR, marketing, advertising, etc. Taylor is proud to have supported our client partner Activision Blizzard throughout the launch and be a part of a game-changing moment in the industry.