The Overwatch Preseason Approaches

by Justin J. Andreozzi

At the 2016 BlizzCon, Blizzard Entertainment executed - in inspiring fashion - phase one of its five part plan to create the most prestigious esports league in the world.  Now, several months later, Overwatch competitors and the esports world wait in anticipation for phase two: The Preseason.

According to Blizzard's Overwatch League website (www.overwatchleague.com): "Proven stars and leader-board heroes will assemble in one global talent pool.  Teams then maneuver to sign the best players and build sturdy rosters for the season ahead."  The "Preseason" phase will purportedly include a first-of-its-kind esports combine, where players (by invite only) will compete to showcase their skills for the sanctioned Overwatch League franchises.

This will be an unprecedented time in esports, and the top competitors are going to need to focus all of their time and energy on performing to the best of their ability leading up to and throughout the preseason.  Just like in traditional major sports, competitors need competent, experienced representation now more than ever.  While Overwatch All-stars work to showcase their talent, they need representatives working behind the scenes to leverage the best player-team contracts, and seek out lucrative marketing and sponsorship deals.

Just as no NFL prospect enters the combine without an agent, no esports competitors should attempt to navigate the constantly shifting climate of esports without representation.  For Overwatch professionals, the preseason is is rapidly approaching.  The time to secure quality, professional representation is now.

A New Facet To eSports Talent Representation: Combine Preparation

by Justin J. Andreozzi

Blizzard Entertainment's announcement of their industry shattering Overwatch League has introduced several game changing dynamics that are new to esports, and in turn create a new facet to esports talent representation.  Among other things, Blizzard announced that the league will host a "first-of-its-kind esports combine."  According to Blizzard's Nate Nanzer, "[w]e're going to put players through tests that will determine if they'll be an excellent Overwatch player."  Thus, esports competitors who aspire to champion the Overwatch League will first have to impress team scouts by showing out at the combine.

While the idea of a combine may be foreign to most esports agents, agencies like Pillar Sports Management, LLC are looking forward to capitalizing on the "unknowns" and providing their clients with advantages over the competition.  Pillar Sports Management's focus in the past has been almost entirely NFL-based, where an annual combine designed for players to showcase their skills in hopes of securing a professional contract is familiar ground.

"I've navigated through other esport Agencies' websites to see if they provide any services that aren't typically provided for NFL athletes, and I've noticed that the services are essentially the same," said Christian Kranz, an NFLPA Certified Agent who works in Pillar's esports Division.  He added: "We've developed some phenomenal tactics for our clients to prepare for the NFL combine, and most of them appear to translate directly to esports.  We have been putting a lot of effort into identifying the keys to success specific to the Overwatch Combine, and will be using this research to give our clients an advantage over other participants."

Christian and I have talked at length about the various dynamics of the NFL combine, and speculate as to what overlap there may be with the Overwatch Combine coming sometime later this year.  Will there be a Wonderlic test?  What events will best forecast a players talent such that the teams may pay the most attention to them?  Anyone who follows the NFL combine and draft knows that of all of the various tests, the 40-yard dash bares the closest correlation to draft-grade.  A player who under-performs on his 40 time may not find himself on a team, while a player who over-performs may increase his draft grade by several rounds.

The top Overwatch players should make sure that they hire an agent with combine experience, so that they are adequately prepared to excel on the big stage.

One Small Step for Blizzard, One Giant Leap for Esports

by Justin J. Andreozzi, Esq.

Introduction

            In the early 1970’s Atari, Inc. pioneered the video game industry and carried the torch for over a decade.  Since then companies like Sega, Electronic Arts, and Blizzard have made significant strides in almost every aspect of gaming entertainment.  Today, it seems like more kids grow up playing video games than conventional sports like soccer and basketball.  The parental inclination to force children away from video games and into physical sports has been a less popular practice due to the cutting edge results of intensive studies regarding the long term effects of concussions, especially those inflicted on children.  Likewise, more and more studies have publicized the cognitive benefits that certain video games have, especially those that require strategy, problem solving, and quick decision making.  For millennials, video games have undoubtedly become a global pastime, and the industry leaders have finally begun to realize the potential that comes with creating a game capable of endless, repetitive entertainment.  That potential rivals that of professional major sports.  Competitive esports could soon be on the list of marketing goliaths, creating enticing financial opportunities for investors, team owners, and the best players in the world.

On May 24, 2016, Blizzard Entertainment released the highly anticipated online multiplayer game Overwatch.  In almost no time the game amassed over 20 million players and eclipsed many of the other competitive multiplayer games. On November 4, 2016, Blizzard Entertainment used BlizzCon 2016 as a platform to unveil the next generation of competitive gaming.  In just a three-and-a-half-minute video Blizzard presented the world with a well thought out structure for an Overwatch esport League, drawing inspiration from professional sports leagues that have been successful for over a century.  Blizzard’s proposed league structure by no means re-invents the wheel, but the plan is excitingly novel and spectacular in the world of esports.

The Current Climate of E-Sports

The esports world to date has been an unstable landscape intriguing to only the most quixotic investors.  For the most notable example of the volatility of the esports climate, look no further than the most popular video game in the world: Riot Games’ League of Legends.  The competitive and entertaining nature of the game his taken the world by storm, amassing over 100 million players and viewers.  To put the games vast popularity into perspective, consider that in 2014 the MLB World Series averaged 15.8 million viewers; the NBA Finals averaged 15.5 million viewers; the Daytona 500 averaged 9.3 million viewers; and the World Cup final averaged 26.5 million viewers.  The League of Legends Worlds Championship series at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA was viewed by 27 million people.[1]  Over the 15-day World Championship tournament, viewers watched for a combined 179 million hours.  This number was 100 million viewer hours higher than the 2013 World Championship Tournament.  In total, 228 million total viewers tuned in to watch the 2014 League of Legends World Championships, and the massive numbers are no fluke.  In 2015, a record 334 million viewers tuned in over the four-week League of Legends World Championship period.

These staggering viewership numbers beg some serious questions regarding, among other things, the astonishingly low professional player salaries and team profits, and the underutilization of marketing potential.  Over the past couple years, the various competitive esports franchises have been working towards creating a system that provides adequate and stable compensation to professionals and franchises, but their efforts have been met by significant resistance from companies like Riot Games, who appear to be holding most – if not all – of the cards.

Riot Games earned $1.6 billion in revenue last year from League of Legends alone.  Professional League of Legends players, however, receive a base salary of merely $12,500.  While the team owners and Riot Games battle out their issues, it is the professionals who have been taking the biggest hit.  The top professionals dedicate roughly fifteen hours a day to their craft, which means that the best of the best receive an hourly rate of $2.28 per hour from Riot Games.  This is an embarrassing level of compensation for the top professionals of a game with a fan base rivaling that of baseball.  Especially considering the league minimum salary in baseball is over $500,000, and in 2015 Giancarlo Stanton signed a $325 million contract with the Florida Marlins.  The top League of Legends player in the world, Faker, reportedly has a net worth of only $1.5 million.  These low numbers completely undermine the global popularity of esports.

Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill has argued on record that it is not Riot Games, but the team owners who determine the market pricing for players.  While this may be true in other professional sports and entertainment industries, Riot Games has effectively prevented team owners from investing serious money into players by maintaining a league structure with no stability.  Blizzard Entertainment’s proposed global league plan details a structure that could be the first ever esports endeavor geared towards adequately compensating the top tier professionals, building a long-lasting fan base, and providing a stable landscape for investors and franchise owners.

Proposed Overwatch League Structure

            The Overwatch League’s foundational first step, purported already in the works, is to create a global league in which each franchise is based in a major city.  This gives fans around the world a local or regional team to root for, and each franchise owner will provide a venue for fans to watch the top professionals perform.  Franchise owners will also be charged with player development and internal structures.  In turn, players will receive a competitive base salary and benefits, and the franchise owners and the players will share in league economics.  Additionally, and most significant to franchise owners, once a franchise has been approved by the league and assigned to a city, it has a guaranteed place in the league going forward.  This means that team owners can confidently invest capital into their franchises knowing that their team cannot be removed from the league.  This is an important feature of the Overwatch League that is new to esport leagues, but a fixture in most other competitive professional sports leagues.

            As is true with almost everything, the devil lies in the details.  From a distance this structure looks to be exactly what esports has been waiting for, and could be the first step towards the next generation of sports and entertainment.  However, there will be a lot of specifics to look for in the next few months that will show the true colors of the plan.

Conclusion

            The BlizzCon 2016 announcement of a professional esports league with a stable, fertile structure is just what E-Sports investors have been waiting for.  In less than a week the owners of the top League of Legends teams collaborated by drafting correspondence with their collective demands and delivered it to Riot Games’ Marc Merrill and his team.  The new Overwatch League is on the cusp of becoming the world’s premier esports league, with a structure that provides the stability that players, teams, and fans desire.  If Riot Games chooses to ignore the requests of the top team owners, and fails to provide a league with a structure that meets the new industry standard provided by Blizzard Entertainment, we will likely see a shift in popularity away from League of Legends and towards the Overwatch League.  Regardless of whether or not Riot Games answers to the call of its owners and players, Blizzard Entertainment has taken a monumental stride that will likely take the esports world to the next level.

 

[1] All numbers provided by USA Today Sports.