NEW YORK – When the last Philadelphia hero had been The players removed their hands from the control, the confetti fluttered through the air and the triumphant music that through the public address system of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The fans cheered and heaved their smartphones to capture the moment: the first championship of the Overwatch League.
The London Spitfire overturned the outsider Philadelphia Fusion on Saturday afternoon, an important milestone for a premier league That began in January with designs revolutionizing the way Esports is played, structured and consumed. The confetti, the costumed fans, the harsh atmosphere – that was both part of the OWL dream and the blueprint of the league.
Saturday was the highlight of the opening season, and while the upstart league has been promoting it as a huge success, it was just a step. The imminent transition to local markets will ultimately determine the success not only of the league, but also whether its ambitious model can truly transform the Esports landscape.
"The city format has developed faster and larger than I expected," said Nate Nanzer, the league commissioner, "and, frankly, how I knew it would work – for all the reasons in the I just thought it might take more time. "
The League (OWL) was not made into a fast-paced system. It aims to have the perseverance and popularity of traditional sports leagues like the NBA or NFL, deal with communities like the New York Yankees or New England Patriots, and produce revenue that blurs the line between games and sports.
I think it's still a long-term game. One year in a sports league is unimportant, "said Jonathan Kraft, president of the Kraft Group, which owns the OWL Boston Rebellion franchise and also the New England Patriots." We have done so with a view to building long-term investment value. "[LongbeforethechampionshipofficiallyendedSaturday'sopeningseasonOWLofficialswerebusyschedulingSeason2ESPNrecentlyreportedthattheleagueisclosingdealswiththreeexpansionfranchises-oneinAtlantaoneinAtlantaParisandanotherinGuangzhouChina-andnolessthanthreemorecouldbeontheirwayeachsellingfor$30-60millionandwhiletheleague'smostardentfansareusedtoplayingOWLgamesovertheliveTheleaguealsosignedabroadcastdealthismonththatwillputfuturematchesonESPNandDisneychannels
Währe The league's online numbers exceeded the expectations of many team managers – the broadcasts reached an average of 80,000 to 170,000 spectators – team and league officials are confident that their first-year achievements are just a preview of what's to come. They think the league is still rolling down the track, and though there are some potential obstacles, they believe they are following a plan that will revolutionize the sport.
"If Overwatch League succeeds, the model will change for every publisher, league and team in the world," said Noah Whinston, managing director of the Valiant franchise in Los Angeles. "A local model of this magnitude has never been attempted before. If this league succeeds, I think it throws a lot of conventional wisdom about esports on the table."
Local Vision of a Global League
The two teams of The Players sat on a stage at the bottom of the arena and were hit by the gigantic video scoreboard surmounted. The preferred Spitfire team in London consisted of six Korean players, all drawn by a bartender in Brooklyn. The Philadelphia Fusion featured six players from five different countries. None of the players on the stage was American and no one had a tangible connection to the city he had represented in the last four months.
The novelty of OWL is its geolocation model, in which the 12 franchises are tied to specific cities, just like traditional sports leagues. It's a novel formula, and based on early returns, Blizzard, the publisher of the game, could use the same approach with other titles, notably Call of Duty, a popular eSport title over the last twelve years.
But in Year 1 of OWL, all the teams were actually in the Los Angeles area, playing their matches in the same 450-seat studio in Burbank, California, where "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" used to be. This will also be the Year 2 Arrangement
But the owners are hoping the teams will move to their real cities in Year 3 – 2020, which will open up new sources of revenue. Market research firm Newzoo's report earlier this year suggested Esport's worldwide earnings this year will exceed $ 900 million and nearly double in the next three years. The OWL teams know that money is out there, which is why franchise rights for the first 12 teams have been sold for $ 20 million each.
"Ultimately, to really be a force – to create the kinds of monetization on a local basis, the team needs to be more regular on the market," Kraft said.
The league sought owners who have experience in traditional sports that understand an audience at one cultivate local market. OWL owners include the Kraft family, Fred Wilpon, who owns the New York Mets, and Stan Kroenke, who owns Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Rams. But since the squads only represent the cities in their name, there is only so much that they can do with that knowledge. Teams have held watch parties and tried to generate local media interests, but the opportunities are inherently limited.
It is estimated that up to 150 million people around the world will observe e-sports, a figure that is expected to grow in the coming years. But the league wants to have a particularly enthusiastic following in the handpicked cities of the league. They can then use this fandom and generate income streams: ticket sales, merchandising, local sponsorship, community partnerships.
"I think monetization is the core issue in e-sports," Whinston said. "We all know how big the audience is … We're still far from generating tens of millions of dollars in sales every year, but I think we've taken the right steps to test the different parts of the model . "
Kraft compares the league's first season's core audience with low-hanging fruit, mostly players who do not arm well need. The challenge on the road will grow beyond that.
"I think I'm starting to attract and educate casual fans and make the geographical connection – I think of people who do not love hockey, but say: The Bruins are my team because they live in Boston," said he. "I think you have to be in the market to take full advantage of that."
"Once the fans hit the market, they have a reason to pay attention, and then we really need to get going," he continued. "Look, the league has been very successful, nobody can deny that … and next year we'll get stronger, but the next really big test will be when we go into the market in 2020."
Can a game become a pastime?
Overwatch, barely two years old, already has a loyal fan base. The fans who flooded Brooklyn – many of them standing in line for hours at the doors of the Barclay Center – carried all 12 teams in the league, many bearing the names of certain players on their shoulders. Many others wore costumes like the heroes of the game – Sombra, Zarya, Widowmaker, and even Wrecking Ball, a new hamster figure introduced last month – and seemed to be as much attached to the characters in the game as the players who used them.
In the arena, most of the players sat quietly on stage, their hands unseen through the work, their heads shielded from the crowd by monitors. Most of the action took place on the gigantic video board. Overwatch is a six-on-six shooter game, a futuristic adventure that is both the immediate success of the league and a slight cause for trepidation.
Already as the league started this spring, many players gravitated to another title this year. Fortnite was undoubtedly the game of the moment and is expected to surpass 125 million players and bring in $ 1 million a day.
"What Fortnite has done is absolutely incredible," said Tucker Roberts, president of the Fusion franchise. "It's attracting fans right now from Overwatch, League of Legends, Dota, Counter-Strike – all the biggest games there's been in years, it's not a joke … but I do not think that lasts forever."  Fortnite and its Battle Royale format are not suitable for a team league, and OWL officials point out that there are always new titles. Even if some players are tapping at times, the good games – think StarCraft, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Warcraft – are more enduring.
"In my view, the fears of esports fashions and games are a little over the top," Whinston said. "Of course there are casual fans moving from game to game, but I think it's too simple to say:" Well, a new game is coming and Overwatch will fall out of popularity. "
The key is evolution. Updates, new maps, new characters, new technology. And unlike traditional sports, eSports has the ability to change its games at any time, even during one season. Blizzard is doing regular overwatch updates and this year, even a new mid-season character has been introduced, forcing the teams to change strategies and turn the league hierarchy upside down. As a result, the best team in the regular season, the New York Excelsior, was ousted in the semi-final of the OWL. The merger, which sneaked into sixth and final place in the playoffs, instead took place this weekend in Brooklyn.
While baseball or football would never fundamentally change its rulebook mid-season, OWL officials seemed to embrace a drastic change in game time that forced players to adapt.
"I think there are many traditional sports that are trying to keep fans and appeal to young fans because they have not developed in 100 years," said Nanzer. "And I think that's an advantage we have over traditional sports."
Building on the Foundation
The league said it sold out the approximately 11,000 seats available for the two-day finals. All fans looking for tickets in the secondary market last week paid at least $ 125 to enter the arena. DJ Khaled performed before the main event and for the next 75 minutes all eyes were glued to the video board. Below cameras, the cameras fluttered around and approached the players. It was broadcast live on Twitch worldwide and was scheduled to air on ESPN2 during prime time.
The linear broadcast deal is a big step for the young league. It has not only confirmed the place of the Esport in the North American sports landscape, but also the potential to expand the reach of OWL. Team managers know that players are getting used to Twitch, but there is also a potential audience more accustomed to traditional cables. (Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns the Washington Post.)
"Your tribal fan base may not go there, but their parents and their family and friends might," Roberts said Fusion. Who is the son of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.
It could help to mainstream the sport in such a way that the discussion is not relegated to online portals, student residences or school corridors. It could be discussed on sports talk radio, featured in the SportsCenter and discussed in the office water cooler. His audience would not be just those who play Overwatch themselves.
"I do not necessarily think there's a big non-mainstream gaming audience we need to invade," Whinston said. "Essentially, what you need to do is to increase your audience by channeling the same passion as local fans do for their sports teams, so think about it, nobody would say you have to play baseball for a baseball I believe that what we are building is a kind of social and cultural movement. "
The way team and league managers see it, jumped into a business in which the market already with an integrated audience that was hungry existed for a engaging product. And the OWL officials expect them to be here for a while.
"Did you recently meet a 12-year-old?" Asks Nanzer. "If you do that, then I think they just watch other people playing video games on Twitch and YouTube, and that's not going to change magically when they turn 35. It's not like they turn 35 and Like, "Well, I'm now a baseball fan."
They're hoping for the party in Barclays on Saturday was just a glimpse into the future: fans filled seats, long lines at merchandise stalls , a captivating competition on stage.
This commitment could only prevail in the coming generations.
"In the distant future – In 20 years, I think there will be no non-players," said Roberts. "I think kids today, they'll have kids and they're going to play games with their kids, it's like you know today that there is no sport, everyone has at least some familiarity, I think that's where the Things go first. "
The crowd of Barclays certainly knew what they were watching. They waved signs, cheered their favorite players and experienced an exciting finale. London won the day with three games won, including a 3-1 victory on Friday. Led by 18-year-old Joon-yeong Park, a damage specialist better known in the Overwatch world than Profit, the Spitfire won the Junkertown card, crossed the Lijiang Tower, and sealed the title by initiating the merger King & # 39; s tilted Row, a London-inspired card
The Spitfire is already planning to bring the trophy to players in London along with their all-Korean squad in October.
"We are really excited to meet her face," said Spitfire CEO Jack Etienne. "They supported us all season and have to stay up until three or four in the morning."
More than 310,000 saw the last minutes on Twitch, and the crowd in the Brooklyn Arena showered the Korean, London Champions with praise.
"I think it gives us a great foundation on which to build in 2019," said Commissioner Nanzer. "And you know, I think one of our guiding principles as a league is to make sure every season is better than the last and I think this will be a great event to strengthen us."
Mike Hume contributed to this report.
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