The Overwatch League is adding six new esports teams from around the world, bringing the roster to 20 squads altogether from all over the world. The new teams are based in Chengdu, Hangzhou, Paris, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.
The growth of the league says a lot about esports. The owners of the first teams paid an estimated $20 million each for the franchise rights for their Overwatch teams. Activision Blizzard was reportedly asking the latest owners to pitch in $100 million. I have no idea what the franchises actually sold for.
“We never confirmed the original price, and won’t talk about this price,” said Nate Nanzer, commissioner of the Overwatch League, said in an interview with GamesBeat. “I can talk about the process. Last year, we were selling an idea. This year, we had a successful inaugural season. We put a really great product out into the world. We ran a bid process where people came to us with proposals.”
They will all compete in the 2019 Overwatch League season. Last month, franchises representing Atlanta and Guangzhou joined. A total of nine of the teams are from outside the U.S., which is one of the goals of the global city-based esports league.
Nanzer said the owners were chosen based on which cities they represented and their capability to build a local business. That means the owners needed to have some access to some kind of physical venue for esports matches, such as a stadium, broadcasting matches, and local sponsorships and marketing.
“We scrutinized local owners’ capabilities this time a bit more,” Nanzer said. “We wanted to make sure our ownership groups had capability on the ground and could spin something up fairly quickly.”
Back in July, the Overwatch League said its broadcasts will be coming to Disney-owned channels such as ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2, and Disney XD. The Overwatch League’s first week, which took place in Janury, drew 10 million viewers. Activision Blizzard has noted that viewership has grown from there.
The new owner groups include:
- Aquilini Group: a diversified family business that owns the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena, and manages a global conglomerate portfolio will operate the team in Vancouver, Canada.
- Bilibili: a leading online entertainment company for young people in China, covering a wide array of genres and media formats including: videos, live broadcasting, and mobile games will operate the team in Hangzhou, China.
- DM Esports: a global company focused on esports entertainment and investments will operate the team in Paris, France.
- Huya: a leading game livestreaming platform in China will operate the team in Chengdu, China.
- OverActive Media: an integrated company delivering esports and video game entertainment to the Canadian market will operate the team in Toronto, Canada.
- Washington Esports Ventures: A sports organization founded by Mark Ein, owner of the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis, to build and promote esports enterprises will operate the team in Washington, D.C.
“The Overwatch League’s inaugural season was a great success,” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, in a statement. “This past season alone, fans spent 160 million hours watching the leading Overwatch players in the world compete. We are thrilled to add six new outstanding team owners from Europe, China, and North America to our Overwatch League ownership group. We now have 20 of the very best owners in professional sports.”
“Esports has seen extraordinary success and continues to be one of the fastest growing industries in the world,” said Francesco Aquilini, managing director of the Aquilini Group, in a statement. “The Overwatch League has visionary leadership, strong franchises, and connects with millions of players globally. We’re pleased to have the opportunity to expand into esports and we can’t wait to launch the team in Vancouver, which will also represent fans across the Pacific Northwest, including Seattle and Portland.”
“We’re very excited to compete in the upcoming season of the Overwatch League with a team in Hangzhou,” said Rui Chen, chairman of the board and CEO of Bilibili, in a statement. “Esports is one of the most popular livestreaming content types on Bilibili, attracting and engaging millions of users on our platforms. We’re excited to combine the great growth potential of esports with the blockbuster power and quality of Overwatch. We look forward to delivering highly competitive and entertaining gameplay for our supporters worldwide.”
“I’m thrilled to join the Overwatch League with a franchise in one of the world’s most iconic cities,” said Drew McCourt, owner and founder of DM Esports in a statement. “As a global investor in traditional sports, watching the growth of esports and the Overwatch League in particular has been remarkable. I’m excited to bring a team to Paris and to help grow the league throughout France.”
“We’re delighted to establish a deep partnership with the Overwatch League,” said Henry Sha, CFO of Huya, in a statement. “We’re excited by the growth potential of esports, and we’re looking forward to leveraging our gaming expertise and capabilities. As a leader in China’s game livestreaming industry, we think we can help grow the popularity of the Overwatch League by providing unique resources and a large viewer base. We believe our team in Chengdu will demonstrate HUYA’s focus on the global esports industry and will further expand esports awareness and participation of Chinese gaming enthusiasts.”
“We look forward to growing the reach and influence of the Toronto franchise and the Overwatch League in Canada, and around the world,” said Chris Overholt, president and CEO of OverActive Media, in a statement. “We’ll achieve this with the help and passionate support of our fans, who are already declaring their allegiance for our team. Our owners are fiercely committed to building a team of professionals and an organization that we know will quickly be considered a best-in-class sports and entertainment company.”
“We’re elated to bring an Overwatch League team to the Washington, D.C. community,” said Mark Ein, owner of Washington Esports Ventures, in a statement. “There’s a rich tradition of sports and fan engagement in this region, and I believe in the power of those connections to inspire and bring communities together, and to serve as an impactful platform to give back. We think the city-based global esports model is well suited for growth and ideal for engaging younger audiences.”
Further details about official team names, marks, and rosters will be announced soon by each franchise in conjunction with the Overwatch League. Information about the 2019 season schedule will be released at a later date. Nanzer will be speaking at the upcoming Esports BAR event in Miami on September 24.
Asked if he or the owners were worried about the future of Overwatch in light of the popularity of rival Fortnite, Nanzer said no. He said, “Our league is structured after franchise teams in traditional sports. We have a real focus on driving revenue for the league, and not just for the game. The type of play is very different. Our owners understand and recognize the differences.”
Nanzer said the league will work with the new owners to come up with team branding and start selecting their rosters of professional players.
“It’s a lot of hands-on work now from an operational perspective, and what kind of sponsorship opportunities they have,” Nanzer said.