Overwatch League team owners are unhappy about new format changes
Overwatch League team owners are reportedly unhappy about the 2023 season changes and worried about their once seemingly valuable investments.
The 2023 format and schedule changes announced this week for Overwatch League were bound to make someone upset. As it turns out, the ones most sour about changes coming to the 2023 Overwatch League are the team owners. A post by the Sports Business Journal's esports blog reports that team owners such as NRG Esports, Netease, the Kraft Group, and more were blindsided by the league announcements on Wednesday.
This includes the change to a "more open ecosystem" that will allow Contenders teams a chance at Overwatch League glory. According to the report by the SBJ, owners believe that their investments--already dwindling from the 20 million dollar startup costs in 2016--will lose further value by letting non-OWL teams compete.
Overwatch League owners: Visionaries or dupes?
The pitch saw Overwatch League as the surefire esports league. Modern gaming together with old money sports franchising. Names such as Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, NBA baller turned esports aficionado Rick Fox, and more were all sold an attempted bill of goods on the idea that OWL was a bulletproof idea. Combine the youth and energy of esports with the organization and selling points of leagues such as the NFL.
What better example of this hubris is there than the proposed Philadelphia Fusion esports arena: a $50 million, 65,000-square-foot, 3,500-seat venue, never finished and for a team that is now being moved to Seoul. In retrospect, it feels like any teenager could have told owners the idea was rotten.
COVID comes calling
The pandemic compounded troubles. But the record still shows that the proposed and promised Overwatch League value to owners of $125 million by 2020 as reported by Bloomberg was farcical at best, and unrealistic at worse.
Sold a bag of beans, owners now continue to see their investment squandered. Moves such as the Activision-Blizzard merger, the shutdown of Blizzard games in China, the constant shuffling of OWL teams to new locales, and a lack of home games for US-bound teams are all signs of deterioration.
The promised neverland
Which is all surprising given the future seemed bright back in 2018. Back at SXSW 2018 in a talk about Overwatch League's future--reported by the Austin American-Statesman by this writer--then-league commissioner Nate Nanzer talked of a grand plan for OWL. A vision of home games and teams and their cities getting the same perks as when there's an NFL home game. Merch stands, concession residuals, parking garages, and more. Overwatch league owners fell hard for the idea.
Even before the Pandemic this was a mere pipedream. Team homestands never took off in a substantial way. Worse yet, LAN play is all but reserved for the big events in a post-COVID world. With the promises of yesterday now dead, team owners see the new changes as yet another sign of an unhealthy investment.
The SBJ reports that "when Activision first pitched OWL, part of the allure was that the teams that bought a slot would have a near-exclusive stranglehold on the competitive ecosystem, especially when it came to third-party tournaments." Now, in an effort to inject life back into a league struggling to thrive by introducing Contenders teams as underdogs, the reaction by owners is an even worse sign.
No future for you
After all, what's worse: An OWL team that does beat a Contenders team in tournament play or the ones that potentially lose? The former comes as no shock and the latter may turn a franchise into a laughing stock for years to come.
Ominously, the Journal ends their report saying "This latest development for OWL comes in the wake of some team owners retaining UK-based law firm Sheridans to examine legal options with regard to the league."
If this is the case then Overwatch League owners and fans may share one thing in common: They both don't know if the league has a future past this coming season.
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