The inaugural season of the Overwatch League, soon to be better known as “OWL,” is set to begin early next year, and Blizzard games aren’t just button-mashing around. The popular team-based first-person shooter is jumping into the eSports arena in a big way; the league will have a similar look and feel to more traditional sports as far as how it will be organized and packaged to the masses.
Gone are the inside-baseball team names, which have numbers for letters, letters for numbers, and no real meaning to a casual viewer. (Sorry FNRGFE, you’re a good team, but your name doesn’t roll off the tongue like Falcons.) Instead, fans will be cheering for likes of the Dallas Fuel.
Longtime Overwatch fans might find the new team names a little soporific, but if the goal is to attract a bigger audience, which leads to bigger sponsors, it’s not a bad idea to clean things up a bit and make it digestible for newcomers. Overwatch is a chaotic game that some have already criticized as a tough viewing experience. The challenge for Blizzard will be producing an event that is easy on the eyes for not only the hardcore gamer but the casual mid-thirties writer who lives alone with his cat.
Whatever side you land on in the team-name debate, there is no argument that the OWL will feature some of the top Overwatch players in the world, showcasing them in a high-profile league and marking the next step in the eSports evolution. The money behind OWL is groundbreaking from an eSports perspective. Not just anyone can own an OWL franchise. If you want in, you’ll need to withdraw a cool $20 million at the bank machine. Sure, it’s not $2 billion LA Clippers-type money, but it’s attracted the same type of owner, like Comcast Spectacor (owner of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers) which purchased the Philadelphia Fusion, and Robert Kraft (owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots), who purchased the Boston Uprising.
Just like teams in America’s big-four sports leagues, Overwatch teams are allowed to sign whomever they can from any country in the world. Owners were given an extensive scouting report on all the top players, and they can negotiate their own player contracts, with $50,000 as the minimum one-year salary. The result is that some of the teams are a mish-mash of top talent, while others are, effectively, existing teams that have been transplanted in toto to a new franchise. (It’s like if you started a new basketball team in London, signed Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson from the Golden State Warriors, and then slapped the name “London Lions” on it.)
The reality of that dynamic is that newly formulated teams will have their hands full against some of the established squads, like the aforementioned Dallas Fuel (largely comprised of players from “EnVyUs,” ranked fourth globally) and Seoul Dynasty (largely comprised of players from “Lunatic-Hai,” ranked second globally). Those teams have already had years to coalesce and have found a great deal of success on the biggest Overwatch stages in the world. Will the patchwork teams even be competitive?
That question was answered, to some extent, in the OWL preseason (December 6th to 9th), and we’ll learn more when the regular season gets underway on January 10th, 2018. Teams will battle through four five-week stages, aiming to secure a playoff berth (July 11 to 28th, 2018) and a seat at the Grand Finals.
The Champs will not only get a neat trophy that looks like a sword but will also pocket a cool million bucks in bonus money. The runner-ups will receive $400,000, third and fourth-place teams will take home $100,000, and fifth and sixth-place squads will walk away with $50,000. There are also bonuses for regular-season records, which top out with a $300,000 bonus to the team with the best overall record. All in, there will be $3 million in bonuses awarded throughout the year.
Who is the favorite to win season one of OWL? Below are the odds. Feel free to throw a wager down and see if you can cash in on some blasting hero action.
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