The Overwatch League has been scant on details since its announcement - that much is clear to anyone who's been following along since Blizzcon.
The Overwatch League, proposed as a city-based league with permanent slots for its participants, was set to be a safe investment for sports moguls to jump in on. The problem has been one of time. As the months have ticked on since Blizzcon, pro players have gotten antsy, but it looks like we've finally got a bit more solid information thanks to a Korean press conference held with Nate Nanzer, Blizzard's head of esports earlier today.
The biggest bit of information? We're looking at a Q3 start date for the Overwatch League right now, planned as a short season, with a more consistent schedule starting in 2018 - and it will be an independent league rather than an association.
The finals for the Overwatch League will also be similar to the League of Legends World Championships in that it won't be in the same city every year, and not at BlizzCon. This is a serious departure from tradition for Blizzard, as Blizzcon has been the esports HQ for the Anaheim-based company for many years.
When asked about profit models, Nate Nanzer said that the game must support that from within first, before external sources can get involved:
The Overwatch esports team is under the Overwatch development team because we believe that in order to establish a successful esport, we need a lot of support and changes from within the game itself. This is why when the Overwatch League starts, we will add systems that will support viewing esports matches, checking player's profile or viewing additional video content.
And it is through those quality contents that we will host regional and global sponsors, and share the profits from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, and merchandise sales with the teams.
Blizzard seems to be doubling down on their esports program for Overwatch with more changes than have already been implemented. With the momentum of their more than 25 million players only eight months after release, they believe that the game has serious esports potential.
Profit Sharing with Teams
The profits from teams seem to be driven from external factors, like ticket sales, at present - but that doesn't mean Blizzard has ruled out the possibility of in-game sales, like CS:GO has for stickers at Majors for example.
"Sharing profits from in-game sales has not been decided yet, but is being seriously considered," Nanzer said. "It is possible to share profits from sales of seasonal esports items or team related items with the teams, but it is still under consideration at this point."
This might become a serious issue of contention for team owners, especially given that they need to have capital to get in on the league in the first place, as Nanzer elaborated:
We welcome anyone who is willing to invest in the OW league and keep the team in the long term. Of course, they are required to have necessary capital or plans to form a team. Due to privacies of each organization or company, we can't disclose the qualifications.
If the owner is selected through collaboration with the Overwatch League, he or she can participate in the Overwatch League permanently. We will return with more information in the near future.
Most important to the current ecosystem of Overwatch teams is that there won't be a player draft that will break apart existing teams, as was earlier rumored.
"The team owners will have the rights to their roster," Nanzer said. "We will do our best to prevent cases where existing teams would break up for the Overwatch League."
This is a great thing for the stability of the scene, because many teams have been getting involved by picking up rosters ahead of time - and even have been approached by home cities already. There's nothing to suggest that the planned combine for potential recruits, which Blizzard mentioned in their Q4 earnings call, is not still planned though.
"It's an eye-opener to me," NRG owner Andy Miller told theScore esports' Josh Bury. "We've had interest from traditional sports teams who are located in cities saying 'hey, do you want to partner with us?' We've had interest from actual cities: like mayors and sports entertainment authorities, saying 'hey, is there a possibility that you want to bring your org to our city and partner with us?'"
And that seems to be going according to Blizzard's plan, as Nanzer elaborates on the inclusion of home cities:
Our ultimate goal is to create a global league just like traditional esports such as football. This is why we came up with a plan to implement a city based team system.
Although Korea is very mature when it comes to esports culture, there aren't many region based tournaments. This is why we aim for stability in teams through things like regional sponsors. so we are considering things like home stadiums in the future.
Other details, such as why Tracer was chosen for the Overwatch League's logo, and more can be found here.