Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch league slated to debut in 2017

Activision Blizzard, Inc. announced that it is creating a professional e-sport league for its wildly popular first-person shooter, Overwatch. Blizzard plans to start the league in 2017, with competing teams set up to represent major cities, much like in existing professional sports.

At the beginning of the new season, Blizzard will host a combine, or an event that will allow players to demonstrate their gaming skills. Eligible gamers will receive invitations to try out for teams after a series of assessment tests.

Typically, e-sports leagues choose from a pool of existing teams already competing in tournaments, but Blizzard is interested in building teams from scratch.

With e-sports revenue estimated at $500 million in 2016 and an estimated $1.1 billion in 2019, according to Newzoo, professional gaming is opening up as a viable career path for those with the right skills.

Blizzard will operate its league by primarily having individual entrepreneurs own the teams, instead of being owned by companies. The potential owners will bid for a city to have a team. Once the bid is accepted, the city will have a permanent spot in the league, which will give city teams an opportunity to thrive. Players who are drafted at the combine event will be offered a benefits package, a contract and a compensation with a salary.

According to research firm SuperData Research, Inc., an estimated 70 million people watched e-sports in 2014. Since then, that figure has risen to 214 million. This large viewership demonstrates the popularity that competitive gaming is garnering. Games like Dota 2 and League of Legends have been drawing large crowds for many years. In 2014, a Dota 2 tournament in Seattle brought more than 11,000 spectators to a basketball arena to witness the contestants battling for a monetary prize of $11 million. Similarly, a League of Legends tournament had an online viewership of 8.5 million people at its peak. In that same year, Amazon.com, Inc. purchased the popular video streaming service Twitch.tv for $970 million in cash. Twitch has since become regarded as the primary medium for video game streaming and showcasing.

Twitch has played a major role in building a fan base for competitive games. The website allows gamers to livestream their play to an audience, forming a closer connection between fans and players than traditional sports do. Twitch estimates that, on average, the amount of people concurrently watching players’ livestreams was around 550,000. A gamer who spoke to The New York Times compared streaming to an NBA player strapping a GoPro to his chest during every practice and game while answering fans’ questions directly via an earbud. This level of transparency and access is hard to achieve in traditional sports, but Twitch provides this service seamlessly.

Streaming and professional gaming are usually seen as hobbies, but the amount of time spent to reach professional levels often takes immense dedication and focus, much like a normal job or vocation. Determined players will often dedicate hours of their day to practicing and streaming, sometimes neglecting their friends, school and traditional sports to play games more often.

Peter Dager is another gamer who spoke to The New York Times about the trouble his parents gave him about his dedication to video games. They regarded his dedication as an obsession and doubted the longevity of a career in gaming. Dager, who is the captain of the Dota 2 team called Evil Geniuses, started off with a meager salary of $2,000 as a professional gamer. However, that figure skyrocketed when he earned almost $2 million in 2015.

Blizzard’s move to legitimize professional gaming reflects a larger movement toward e-sports. TBS and ESPN have begun to show interest in professional gaming, as more and more people turn away from traditional sports to watch e-sports.

“Our goal is to create the world’s premiere e-sport league where teams and players can thrive for years to come. And fans are made for life,” a Blizzard representative said in a video advertising its upcoming league. “Our hope is to establish the Overwatch League as a professional career path open to any and all [of] the world’s most competitive players.”

With only months until the launch of the Overwatch league, Blizzard suggests that any interested players should continue to make a name for themselves in the game, helping to secure a spot as a premium draft pick.