With the introduction of new services, there has always been movement from one extreme to the next as perception of value changes year to year. I would not be surprised if a new enterprise begins bundling the various streaming services together to form a new type of cable package. We have begun seeing the beginnings of such partnerships between various services such as Hulu teaming up with Spotify and other streaming sites being offered with mobile services. We are in the midst of peak TV which is great for consumers, if they are willing to pay for it.
The Overwatch League’s second season is starting today. After a highly successful first season where the finals drew more than 10 million online views (not including broadcasts on ESPN and Disney XD), Blizzard, the company behind Overwatch and its associated eSports league, hopes to continue to build upon its earlier success. Although the Overwatch League is not the most watched eSports game today (that title is held by League of Legends), I believe it has the funding, backing, and popularity to become the dominant player in the space.
Regional Based Teams: The Overwatch League is the first eSports league to follow each team in a specific city around the world. This allows new fans to immediately have a team they can cheer for which reduces barriers to entry when you have to get to know players in the previous model. Furthermore, this encourages investment by ‘traditional’ team owners such as Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Patriots) and Stan Kroenke (owner of the LA Rams) which is critical for funding and clout.
Professional Sports Owners: By having investors such as Kraft and Kroenke, the Overwatch League has deep pocketed partners who are experienced in business and sports and have a vested interested in ensuring the success of the league.
Slick Production: Blizzard built a dedicated venue in Burbank to house Season 1 and 2 of the Overwatch League. It is a state-of-the-art facility with wall-wrapping screens that highlight the high-level game play. Furthermore, the production had experienced moderators and analysts with great shout casters for the play-by-play calls. This gave viewers a fun experience watching online and also followed a similar structure as professional sports with a halftime where analysts reviewed the first half and gave predictions for the second half. It was all very familiar.
Amateur Discovery: The Overwatch League has a built-in amateur discovery system with the Overwatch Open and Overwatch Contenders. The former culls talent from the best players (not currently in the league) around the world into a structured tournament to showcase their skills and get discovered. If they perform well, they can be pulled into the Overwatch Contenders which can be seen as the minor leagues with multiple teams around the world. From here, Overwatch League teams can sign the most promising players to their teams. This system creates a great pipeline of players and allows those interested in competing at the highest level an avenue to get there.
I have faith that Overwatch will be the dominant eSports player in the near future and other video games will attempt to emulate Blizzard’s success to various degrees. With their first mover advantage, Blizzard is able to lock down the major, influential investors around the world while continuing to build upon their promising start.