Fourth Coast Entertainment -

By Dr Anthony Betrus
FCE Staff 

Game Connoisseur

Esports Goes Pro with Support from Traditional Sports Franchises

 

Last updated 2/9/2018 at 8:56am | View PDF



Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and New England Revolution (soccer), can now add the Boston Uprising (esports) to his list of pro sports franchises. The Uprising is one of twelve teams participating in the inaugural Overwatch League, sponsored by game developer Blizzard Entertainment, creators of other popular games World Of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. After Kraft’s bold move, other traditional sports entities followed, plopping down a minimum of $20 million for franchise rights. These include Mets COO Jeff Wilpon purchasing the rights for the New York Excelsior, Kroenke Sports (Rams, Nuggets, Avalanche) picking up the Los Angeles Gladiators, and Comcast Spectacor (Philadelphia Flyers) sponsoring the Philadelphia Fusion. The league is rounded out with five additional North American teams located in Houston, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Dallas, as well as teams from London, Seoul, and Shanghai.

While professional esports has been around for quite some time, the Overwatch League is different, in that Blizzard has modeled its structure around traditional sports. As such, each team has a location and an owner, and players are typically signed for one year, given retirement benefits, health insurance, and a league minimum salary of $50,000. This does not include revenue sharing, sponsorship money, or $3.5 million in prize money. The highest paid player in the league is the San Francisco Shock’s Jay “Sinatra” Won, considered by most to be the world’s top player, pulling in a $150,000 base salary for his highly technical ‘Tracer” role on their six-man team.

The game itself is a first-person shooter, with an easily understood format. The overall structure mirrors volleyball, with each match decided via a best of five games format. Each game lasts 15-30 minutes, and each game is divided into two rounds. The gameplay itself loosely follows the metaphor of Rugby or Football, with teams taking turns on offense and defense, fighting with each other as one team attempts to move a ‘payload’ (think football or rugby ball) through a map (think field). Teams then switch, and the team that makes the most progress at the end of the game is declared the winner. The first person to win 3 games wins the match.

With the preseason winding down, the first regular season match is set for January 10th, 2018, with the one million dollar prize going to the team who wins the grand finals on July 28. You can watch the matches live, four days a week, at overwatchleague.com, which also stores replays of each match in case you miss the live session. It will also be streamed through Twitch, and YouTube Gaming, and traditional sports outlets like ESPN will likely to part of the picture before too long. If you would like to attend a live match, you can purchase tickets to the watch the matches on Stage One at Burbank Studios, former home of the Johnny Carson Show. Local stadium home matches are set for season two. If history is a guide, you can expect attendance and viewers that rival or surpass many traditional sports. For example, the recent League of Legends grand final, held Nov 4, 2017, filled the 91,000 capacity “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing, with an additional 43 million people watching online. Compare that to the 28 million who watched the Astros defeat that Dodgers in baseball’s game 7. The next big step for esports: figure out a way to include female gamers. Right now, there are no female gamers on any of the twelve team rosters, either in the starting lineups or in the reserves.

Dr. Anthony Betrus

SUNY Potsdam

The Game Connoisseur

 

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