E-sports are becoming bigger than simply the size of the monitors they are played on. With new sponsors, organizations, and funding entering the mix, the e-sports scene is only continuing to prove itself more than simply the “new kid on the block.” But as e-sports continues to grow, it is uncertain whether it will begin to look more like a traditional sports league or it’s own entity entirely.
There are many reasons to believe that e-sports will begin to model itself after traditional sports leagues. To see why, one doesn’t need to look further than the teams in the Overwatch League. For those unfamiliar, the Overwatch League follows a franchising model similar to that of traditional sports. Each team in the league is registered to a city, such as the Boston Uprising, Seoul Dynasty, or Los Angeles Gladiators. What this does from an audience standpoint is allow for prospective viewers to match teams with cities that they identify with. What this does from a league perspective is allow for teams to have an impact on the communities they represent. This is done primarily through events located in each team’s respective city.
I recently had the pleasure of attending such an event when the Boston Uprising hosted an event while I was in the Greater Boston area. The organization had planned a medley of events for that weekend including a meet and greet at a gaming cafe and another at an arcade, a collegiate league tournament for Boston-area colleges to compete in, as well as a clothing collaboration and autograph signing at a local clothing store. At each event they hosted, they held a toy drive for attendees to donate to youths in need.
Blizzard’s decision to use this franchising model has enabled teams, such as the Boston Uprising, to engage with their respective communities for the better. While the Overwatch League may be the most recent major league to be introduced to the e-sports ecosystem, it may have the biggest impact on the future of the industry. While people have long been comparing traditional sports to e-sports, the biggest difference between the two has arguably been that traditional sports teams have stadiums to host games in cities that the team represents. By adopting the franchising model of traditional sports, The Overwatch League has taken the first step to bridging this gap. Whether or not Blizzard, or any other developer for that matter, decides to build upon that remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the introduction of elements of traditional sports is a healthy addition to e-sports and one that will hopefully continue to keep the Overwatch League as much of a spectacle in future seasons as it was in it’s first season.