After months of anticipation and intrigue, misery and concern, the final Overwatch league teams for season one of play have been established. Blizzard announced on Wednesday morning the three final teams to compete in the opening season of play, which will commence on Wednesday, January 10. In addition to the original nine franchises, Blizzard welcomed a Dallas team owned by esports organization Team Envy, a Houston team owned by OpTic Gaming, and a Philadelphia team owned by Comcast Spectacor. Thus, the final 12 cities will be Boston, Los Angeles (with two teams), Miami, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, London, Houston, Dallas, and Philadelphia. Compounding upon the announcement, was a Tuesday Overwatch game update that intrinsically tweaked some of the characters, subsequently changing the meta. Overwatch and Jeff Kaplan have provided plenty for the esports community to unpack.
Overwatch League Teams Established – Updates and Exploring New Areas
Overwatch League Final Teams
With the Overwatch League now complete, the precedent is set for the first franchise league construct in esports. Blizzard has faced both challenges and controversy in their path to acquiring 12 teams. First, the high buy in price of $20 million for a franchise put prospective owners in an awkward quandary of needing to be all in with the idea. More so than any other league, even traditional sports startups, franchise owners could not step in to test the water; owners had to be all in almost in the spirit of a venture capitalist.
The final 12 teams that have bought in are an entertainment option with high upside as a venture opportunity. Stan and Josh Kroenke, Robert Kraft, OpTic Gaming, Immortals – all these names are associated with capitalizing on risk and past success. The $20 million buy-in price may have been high, and dangerously so for the initial growth of the league. However, it also ensured the final composition of owners would be afore mentioned esports and business names that carry weight and a past built upon risky success.
The final three teams announced this morning are no different – Philadelphia, Houston, and Dallas are all important cities to the United States infrastructure. Houston is a major port city in the United States, and a growing hub of international movement. The owners, OpTic Gaming, however, may be more important than the city. Known as The Green Wall, OpTic Gaming has a precedent fan base that should flow directly to their Overwatch community.
Dallas is another growing infrastructural hub in the United States. Joining a historically successful sports city, Dallas offers a litany of businesses looking to capitalize on new opportunities such as esports. The downside, however, is Dallas and Houston both are in the same state of Texas. The proximity may build a thriving rivalry, a team in Chicago or Seattle may have been beneficial in spreading the Overwatch League to the northern United States.
No matter, Dallas is a city that needed a team at some point, and to have it as a foundational city will be important to the long-term prospects of the league. Team Envy is another esports organization that has an incredible precedent with an exuberant fanbase. A better historical match between the storied sports city of Dallas and the electricity of Team Envy could not have been found.
The other city to join was Philadelphia – a city with incredible history to the interior United States, but an odd geographical choice with regards to modern infrastructure. Owned by Comcast Spectacor, the Philadelphia franchise represents the opportunity and risk associated with a business exploring the league more than any other team.
Comcast has a foundation in Philadelphia with the NHL Philadelphia Flyers. Thus, instead of priming just for traditional sports, Comcast is capitalizing on the youth and excitement of esports in a city other businesses or esports organization cannot. The Comcast team is more about Comcast wanting to join in than the city of Philadelphia being strategically important.
“Comcast Spectacor is thrilled to play a central role in the Overwatch League’s inaugural season and energize the growing esports community in Philadelphia and beyond.” – Dave Scott, President and CEO of Comcast
Although much of the narrative from Blizzard is currently positive – as it should be, they have initiated the first franchise model with success so far – one of the marks was missed. There are only 12 teams opposed to the target of 14 teams. While 12 teams will suffice, make no mistake that the Overwatch league team demands are a hard sell for owners who may be looking to influence the structure. Blizzard is acquiring owners to a model; not owners building a model.
Rumors surfaced from ESPN insider Jacob Wolf that a thirteenth team owned by Wesley Eden was denied entry. Eden is the NBA Milwaukee Bucks owner and was looking to establish a team somewhere in the afore mentioned Midwest. Eden’s assumed Milwaukee team may not be the best market for esports, but a Midwest team would dominate the region. Eden will most likely be the newest owner come season two.
The reasoning for Eden’s denial was most likely that a 14th team could not be secured. The $20 million entry fee is a hard-pressed fee for owners who cannot, or do not, want to gamble. While Blizzard inherently narrowed their crowd of owners with pre-structured demands, they have also narrowed the window to the type of owner they want.
Consider on the flip-side, a small league may not be a bad initial structure. In terms of traditional sports, the NBA is currently facing a situation of too much growth. Although the range of 25 to 32 teams has become standard across traditional franchise modeled leagues, overgrowth creates dead franchises. As elite players in the NBA have migrated to a few select teams, the bottom half of the league is out from day one not because a lack of talent, but all the elite talent moving to the cities where they can make an image for themselves.
After all, would Birmingham, Alabama or Cleveland, Ohio really be a great culture for an esports team?
Deriving this to the Overwatch League setting, a 12-team league may be a blessing in disguise. Another large concern for the league is how many players (outside of pre-established esports organizations) will be willing to sign to the Overwatch League.
Had Blizzard pushed for too many teams, the disparity in talent could have created an even bigger fiasco. The rich business men will come; the league only needs a few. Not having enough players, the bottom-line, would have been a flat-out embarrassment. For now, Blizzard can hide themselves from the potential embarrassment with a smaller league.
Roster Updates and Potential BlizzCon Announcement
While finalized franchise rosters are not yet announced, fans only have a month to wait. The signing period closes on October 30th, just a few days from the 11th BlizzCon on November 3rd. Current speculation is expecting Blizzard to wait to announce final rosters until BlizzCon so they may capitalize on the event’s exciting air of expectation.
Announcing rosters on November 3rd would create an air of celebration around the announcement, akin to the celebration the NFL Draft has turned into. A celebratory event would create additional coverage and excitement for the league, and in return, drive a bigger audience.
However, the downside of announcing rosters on November 3rd is establishing precedent for a similar air of excitement next year. Launching an event too big, too soon will make the corporation appear cheesy. The closest comparison would be a movie that has poor script writing, but receives lots of explosions and CGI to entice an audience that will be sorely disappointed in the end. An air of pride from Blizzard could be harmfully off-putting.
Pre-Season and Regular Season Speculation
Pre-season play will begin on Wednesday, December 6 in the Blizzard Arena Los Angeles with matches from all teams. December 6 will be the first time the composition and strategy of teams can be observed by pundits and fans alike. The excitement for watching the teams may surface on performance and highlights, but ought to surface on the cohesion of teams.
Team cohesion is one of the most important psychological factors to analyze in competition. Esports is as much a psychological competition as it is a strategical competition. The way new players work together, the meta strategies used, and how coaches interact with their players will be fascinating to watch.
Pre-season coaching will be important to analyze, almost more than the play. From December 6, coaches have only a month, until January 10, to get their teams ready to compete. Esports is typically thought of as a singular, individual event. Yet, these players need as much coaching and assistance in learning strategical cohesion. A skew of players coming together from across the world to a new place can only be brought together by one function: incredible and passionate coaching.
While Blizzard is still waiting to announce the components of scheduling – how the events will look, their regulation, and all the fun nuances in league management – there are a few takeaways for the rivalries and storylines that may surface.
First, on a completely speculative note, Wednesday will be an important day of the week for the Overwatch League. So far, all league play dates will launch on a Wednesday. Further, today, is a Wednesday, and Blizzard is announcing the most substantive update to the Overwatch League so far.
The first rivalry that will develop, and a possible debut match, is the Dallas team against the Houston team; or Envy taking on their rival OpTic. Termed eClasico, the rivalry between the two organizations is storied. The geographical battle between Houston and Dallas (north and south Texas) will only fuel the passion of local fans. Teams in Texas carry an otherworldly passion with their teams; no doubt the common meta that, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” will reign true for the newly established rivalry.
The two Los Angeles teams and the Seoul and Shanghai team may also be predisposed to a geographical rivalry. The Los Angeles tech scene will naturally latch onto one team or the either. One of the Los Angeles teams is owned by esports organization Immortals CEO Noah Whinston – a pre-established organization that will bring about rivalry from their own fans looking to dominate the Los Angeles market.
The other Los Angeles team is owned by the Kroenke’s, successful owners in the entertainment industry. Their onus will be on creating grandeur events in the Los Angeles arena, an aide to the aesthetic of the spectacle. The San Francisco team, or Silicone Valley team, brings Andy Miller of NRG esports to the league. No doubt, the electricity of San Francisco will bring something special to the league. Thus, the storylines between the owners and talking heads already look to bring about passionate fan bases analyzing their teams.
A key to creating success is the geographic identity of the team and the aesthetics that each owner can bring to the fan base. Ultimately, the entire success of the Overwatch League will be the financial basis set by how many viewers and fans show-up.
Junkertown and September Update
Naturally, to create a good league, Overwatch needs a good product to display. And this is where Jeff Kaplan and the developers of Overwatch come in to influence success; constant tweaks to the game. The latest update 126.96.36.199 was released to the public on September 19th, although some of the changes won’t be seen in the competitive arena for one week. This update brought players a new map and changes to character play.
First, the new map, Junkertown, is set in the desolated Australian outback for the game mode escort. The map offers multiple lanes and methods for players to attack. Since the town is set in a garage-like atmosphere, the mechanical and brown atmosphere adds to the chaos of the fights. Overarching platforms above key hallways and interjoined alleys demand the attackers be on alert from all sides.
However, Junkertown will be receiving its full review and modus operandi of play in due time. The character changes have created instant amusing over reactions. First, Mercy, a healer, had her ultimate ability of Resurrection removed. She now has Valkyrie: an infinite ammo flying, healing dervish of fear.
Over one day of play, Mercy has been treated as an essential team member. Her changes have resulted in matches lengthening due to the feverous activity she can now play with. Quicker maneuvers have resulted from the changes, and she can now resurrect players to lengthen standoff times.
Current players are looking for methods to negate the abilities of new Mercy. One overarching idea is to pull in teams for close quarter combat so Mercy must commit suicide by entering a dangerous situation to use her redistributed resurrection. One methodology is utilizing Roadhog to chain a player and pull them in, thus forcing Mercy to face Roadhog in close quarters. However, the community is still searching for a certified meta to combat the functionally different Mercy.
The other character update is to D.Va – one of the more played tanks in the game. Kaplan noted in his last developer update that her defense matrix ability was too strong. Hence, players were playing her in a more defensive nature while she had real offensive potential. To balance out her character, her defense matrix was nerfed, and she received the ability micro missiles. Her fusion cannons can now be used when flying. Both additions have the meta purpose of adding more offensive push; how those changes functionally play out, however, will come to fruition as the community adjusts in the coming weeks.
Finally, one of the most important long-term updates did not take place on the field, rather, behind the scenes in the development process. As Blizzard looks to establish the Overwatch League as a professional and standard league, Kaplan announced that professional players will now have an official way to provide feedback on a regular basis.
Kaplan has opened a direct email line, established conference-calls, and finally opened a private Discord channel all for the purpose of allowing professional players to provide timely and thorough feedback. While Kaplan insisted, “Every voice matters,” the professional players influence where Blizzard makes money in the game. Ensuring that Overwatch is a watchable esports is fundamental to long-term success.
Kaplan though does frequent the Overwatch Reddit pages, and has been interactive in the community. This update may not be something out of the norm for Blizzard’s development team behavior, as much as it confirms and adds to the solidarity the team has provided.