The 12 teams competing in Blizzard’s inaugural Overwatch League have been announced, and with it Blizzard has sent a clear message to regions existing outside of North America: you’re not wanted.
Much like Major League Baseball’s World Series, this international competition is centered firmly on North America. This is bad news for fans, and for regions outside of North America, who have been given the short end of the stick.
Teams in the Overwatch League (OWL) are linked to a specific region, with franchises locked to cities around the world. Not a bad idea, although let’s take a look at the distribution of teams. Here are the twelve organisations that have picked up a slot for the Overwatch league, and where the slot they’ve bought is based.
-Boston, USA: Robert Kraft, chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots
-New York, USA: Jeff Wilpon, co-founder and Partner of Sterling.VC and COO of the New York Mets
-Los Angeles, USA: Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals
-Los Angeles, USA: Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, owners of the LA Rams and Denver Nuggets
-Miami and Orlando, USA: Ben Spoont, CEO and co-founder of Misfits Gaming
-San Francisco, USA: Andy Miller, chairman and founder of NRG Esports
-Philadelphia, USA : Comcast Spectacor
-Dallas, USA: Team EnVyUs
-Houston, USA: OpTic Gaming
-London, UK: Cloud9
-Shanghai, China: NetEase
-Seoul, South Korea: Kevin Chou, co-founder of Kabam
Of the three teams, nine are based in North America while two are based in Asia and one in Europe. Blizzard has a huge esports presence in Asia, particularly South Korea, and so the inclusion of a single South Korean team seems like a huge misstep. Europe also has a huge presence in several of Blizzard’s esports, most particularly Heroes of the Storm.
Couple this with the fact that every match in the OWL is being played out at Blizzard’s new Burbank studio, which is a huge boon to the North American teams but means the Asian and European teams will need to relocate to the US or play all of their matches with jetlag, without the possibility to scrim.
Perhaps worse, the idea that matches will never play out in the home city for a franchise is a grim proposition for fans. The whole benefit of each franchise being anchored to a geographical location is that there are local matches and a local presence for fans to invest in. It’s hard to rally behind Cloud9 knowing they’ll never play in London, with matches taking place half a world away.
In my experience, everyone I’ve spoken to at Blizzard seems to care deeply about Blizzard’s community, and the esports that runs alongside it, which makes their decisions all the more confusing. Regardless, season 1 of the Overwatch League has a North American focus that shows the company aren’t interested in building a top level Overwatch scene outside of North America, something all the more confusing when you consider that they’ve previously been remarkably supportive of their international community.
I’m sincerely hoping season 2 is fairer to the international community.