- For the first time, all 20 teams in Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League will host matches in their home cities, bringing the professional video game competition to the United States, China, Canada, South Korea, England, and France.
- With its new traveling schedule, the Overwatch League has achieved Activision Blizzard’s goal of creating an international esports competition, with teams willing to pay $20 million to create regional franchises.
- Each team will host at least two weekend-long events called homestands during the 28-week season. The first two, in New York City and Dallas on February 8 and 9, were fully sold out, with thousands of fans attending and more than 100,000 watching live.
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After two seasons based in Activision Blizzard’s Burbank, California, studio, the Overwatch League has embarked on a traveling schedule with all 20 teams hosting events in their home cities. The first of these weekend-long events — which the professional gaming league calls “homestands” — showcased multiple matches in front of sell-out crowds in New York City and Dallas on February 8 and 9.
For Activision, the successful launch weekend was the culmination of years of planning, delivering the traveling esports competition that enticed investors to spend more than $20 million each for franchise slots in the Overwatch League.
The New York Excelsior kicked-off the league’s third season at the Hammerstein Ballroom, a historic theater venue in Manhattan seating 1,600, while The Dallas Fuel held their homestand at Esports Stadium Arlington, a $10 million arena seating 1,900. Ticket prices ranged from $39 to more than $500 for VIP packages, and every match from both homestands was broadcast live for hundreds of thousands of viewers on Saturday and Sunday.
Pete Vlastelica, president of Activision Blizzard Esports and commissioner for Overwatch League, said the league would be watching closely to see how teams play host during the 2020 season. Each Overwatch League team will produce at least two weekend homestand events at a venue of their choosing during the eight-month season.
Homestands have all the trappings of a traditional sports event, including fan contests, autograph signings, and satellite events for fans to enjoy when they’re not watching the competition.
“One of the exciting things for me, as I watch this season play out, is that every team is going to do things a little bit different, and some of it’s going to work and some of it’s not,” Vlastelica said. “But the stuff that works will not only stick in that city, the other teams will learn from the things that work and that will speed up the evolution of what this local esports thing can be.”
Vlastelica said that league owners were encouraged by the three homestand events Overwatch League held during the 2019 season, with sold-out venues in Dallas, Orlando, and Los Angeles. Activision Blizzard also launched the first season of the Call of Duty League with a traveling schedule in January; 10 Overwatch franchise owners have invested in Call of Duty franchises at a reported price of $25 million each.
“Overwatch” has been one of the most popular multiplayer video games in the world since 2016, and the Overwatch League offers a way for Activision to turn the game’s massive online community into a live audience. The Overwatch League’s transition to regional events is the final piece completing the company’s vision of an international esports league.
Andbox, the esports organization that owns the Overwatch League’s New York Excelsior (NYXL) and the Call of Duty League’s New York Subliners (NYSL), spent the past two years incubating the local esports community to make sure its teams have a passionate fanbase at home.
“It’s been a dream since we purchased this franchise to bring the competition back to New York,” Andbox cofounder Rohit Gupta told Business Insider. “So we’ve been working we’ve been hosting watch parties around the city since day one and we’ve been engaging our supporter friend groups as well.”
Andbox planned a series of events for Overwatch fans to engage with the team outside of the competition during the homestand weekend. Two days before the competition, Gupta brought a former NYXL player to a meeting of the 5 Deadly Venoms Crew, the team’s local fan group. The next night, Andbox held a welcome party for students at a local gaming center. After the matches on Saturday, Andbox sponsored a karaoke event at a Manhattan club, and Sunday morning included a brunch event for fans to meet up before heading to the homestand.
Gupta said, “We’ve been bringing our team into the market to do meet-and-greets with our fans. We’ve been supporting the collegiate [esports] circuit as well as the high school circuit. Those are just are some of the ways we we’ve been engaging the local community specifically around Overwatch.”
The Overwatch League has been waiting for years to prove that it can generate the same passion that we expect from traditional sports, and so far, Activision’s bet on regional esports has worked. The league has found a global fanbase and the teams have created an atmosphere that makes fans excited to come watch an online game in person.
The Overwatch League’s international schedule will still create some challenges during the season — the league is already working to reschedule dozens of matches that were canceled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. It’s unclear if the league will return to China for those matches or play them during other homestand events. As it stands, the Chinese teams may not compete until March, weeks after teams based in North America and Europe debut.
With teams expected to make multiple trips between North America, Europe, and Asia during the season there has also been some scrutiny about the amount of stress players will face from frequent travel. Vlastelica remains confident that the league will be able to adapt to any issues during the course of the season.