Esports is growing up.
Activision Blizzard just announced the Overwatch League, a new esports league built around Overwatch, which will be the first major esports league with a traditional city-based team structure, just like professional sports leagues.
Seven teams are being announced today, based in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Miami-Orlando, San Francisco, Shanghai and Seul. The first season will start before the end of the year, and it’s possible more teams will be added before then.
So far all of the teams are owned by leaders in the traditional sports and esports world. From the old-school sports world Robert Kraft, CEO and owner of the New England Patriots will own the Boston team, and Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets will own the New York team.
From the esports world Noah Winston, CEO of Immortals will run the LA team, and Andy Miller of NRG Sports will own the San Francisco team.
The most interesting part of this new league is it’s strong parallels in structure to traditional sports leagues like the NFL and NBA. Teams will buy into the league with a one-time payment, and each receive an equal share of league-wide net revenues, including eventual broadcast and streaming deals.
While the league isn’t commenting on the price of the buy-in paid to join the league, ESPN recently reported that it’s said to be between $20-30M per team, paid over time. For reference, a new MLS team today costs $150M to start, but was as little as $10M just ten years ago.
And just like in a professional sports league, Overwatch teams will generate their own revenue through ticket sales, advertising and other initiatives. After teams reach a certain amount of revenue generated per year there will be a set percentage sent to the league’s shared revenue pool, helping equal the playing field between cities.
The first season will start sometime before the end of 2017, and take place at a central location in Los Angeles, in order to give teams enough time to develop a local fan base and find a location to host games in their own city. Eventually the goal is for each city to host games at a local venue and attract fans just like an NFL game would.
While the league isn’t yet announcing specifics on how the schedule will be structured, expect that to also mimic regular sports leagues, with regular season home and away games taking place Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights followed by playoffs to crown a league champion each year.
Of course this isn’t the first esports league. But its close similarity to traditional sports, and involvement from sports heavyweights like Robert Kraft, will make it a closely watched venture. If it succeeds expect to see other popular video games mimic this city-specific style of league, with many more professional sports teams owners getting their own piece of the action.