“We definitely envision a world where if you live in a city where there's an Overwatch League team, you have regular opportunities to go see that team live. We think by localizing esports we can unlock [local] revenue streams for esports teams that exist for traditional sports teams but don't exist in today's esports ecosystem. ... We also think [localization] is going to create a stronger bond between the fans, the teams and the players."
This was the statement Overwatch League commissioner, Nate Nanzer, gave in an interview with ESPN in BlizzCon 2016. Four years later, Nanzer’s vision will come to fruition.
As first reported by Jacob Wolf of ESPN, Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer announced Overwatch League teams will move into their home markets in 2020. He also stated teams will play more within their conference than outside of it to minimize effects of jet lag on teams when traveling.
After the news was reported, fans took to social media with mixed reactions. On one end of the spectrum, fans were elated about having their Overwatch League team play in their home city; especially for fans in London, Vancouver, and Washington, where esports is not prevalent. Fans throughout the world will experience what it feels like to cheer for their teams like the Los Angeles Valiant and Los Angeles Gladiators do every week.
Players, surprisingly, are excited about the changes. Grant "moth" Espe from the San Francisco Shock, played in the California Cup -- where the Shock and Valiant played a couple of showmatches in their respective cities before the 2019 season. Aside from technical issues, It was met with positive feedback with the fans.“I’m really excited for it. We played in the Cali Cup last year and it was a lot of fun to meet fans. I’m excited to play there again.”
“I heard SF is a nice city, so I can’t wait to visit around,” said Minki "Viol2t" Park, current teammate with moth for the San Francisco Shock.
Lo "Baconjack" Tzu-Heng, DPS for the Chengdu Hunters, is excited to play in Chengdu for the city and fans: “It's great but I'm not looking forward to the jet lag involved. Other than that, it's Chengdu -- there's nothing to worry about! I'll do my best. You never know what's going to happen. I just hope we don't **** up.”
Boston Uprising’s, Kristian "Kellex" Keller, had in-depth thoughts about playing in Boston and traveling around the world to play Overwatch:
“I am really excited. You have your own stage and it's interesting. I don't know how traveling to another team's arena is going to work. The idea itself is really cool. That's something I heard since Season 1 and I've always to be a part of that. It's cool that all the teams are here in LA playing, but it could be cool living in Boston. You feel like you represent the city more than you do in LA.
I feel like my home city, Copenhagen, feels like Boston in a way. When I visit Boston, it felt like home than I do here in LA because the weather is similar and the way the city looks the same. When we move there, I'll be happy since it'll feel more like home to me. That's what I've been thinking about.”
The Other Side of the Coin
On the other end of the spectrum, fans voiced their concerns about things like travel, burn out, VISA issues, and whether their favorite players are able to stream during their off time. After Nanzer announced the relocation of the teams in the 2020 season, fans initially voiced their concern about travel for the players. Scheduling in the Overwatch League has not been the league’s strong suit for the past two seasons.
Unless players have a steady schedule of a homestand, then traveling for the next week or two, players will start to experience burn out. However, Seoul Dynasty’s Sang-beom "Munchkin" Byeon, he is not concerned in the slightest about travel and burn out:
“Can you be anymore burnt out than it is now? I’m excited for the change. Traveling is not a big deal. I’m excited for it. I think the coaching staff would have a hard time about this, but for the players, it’s not a big deal.”
San Francisco Shock DPS Dong-Jun "Rascal" Kim thinks travel will affect how players and teams practice: “We might go around a lot that there might be less practice. Just like a real sport, depends on where the team lives, traveling will impact their game a lot.”
Kellex, while excited at the idea of frequent travle, shares similar thoughts to Rascal's He also brought up a solid point in regards to practice and day-to-day improvement:
“My biggest concern is about how practice is going to work. We won't have to worry as much because there are other NA teams, but for EU teams, my biggest concern for them is how they're going to practice. If they actually live in the city, who are they going to practice against? They can practice against Contenders teams, obviously, but it's not going to be the same in quality as the Asian and NA teams can get. There's a lot more representation for our regions than the EU region so we can get fairly good practice. I'm worried about the EU teams since the best practice teams they have are each other. If all the best teams go to Asia, they will get a high level of practice.
My other concern is for example, when I went to Shanghai for World Cup, I had to get a Visa -- so I'm not sure how it's going to work for Overwatch League. Let's say we have to play Shanghai or something, then how does it work? The process can take a while so you need to do settle any Visas in advance. What if a team is supposed to play another and they can't go there? It's really another thing to worry about.”
Practice for the European teams like London and Paris will have a difficult time finding quality scrim partners besides themselves. A solution would be scrimming current Contenders teams, as Kellex said. However, how would this affect these teams in the Overwatch League stage in the long run?
Additionally, for Overwatch League teams located in the Asia region such as Seoul, Chengdu, and Shanghai, they are able to scrim with quality teams in Contenders since there is a reputation that those teams are currently the best teams outside Overwatch League. Theoretically, this would make those Overwatch League teams better than teams outside their region.
Fans located in cities where an Overwatch League team is not present are also feeling they are missing out. A few Redditors pointed out diversity among teams in North America, Europe, and Asia are unbalanced. A solution another Redditor pointed out is dividing the teams into specific regions. Reshuffling within the divisions can produce a Pacific West region with the Los Angeles teams, San Francisco, Dallas, and Vancouver. Then, a Pacific East region with Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Seoul.
However, there is still imbalance with the location of the Overwatch League teams. Another solution is team relocation -- a measure that the NBA has done in the past, recently with the Seattle SuperSonics migrating to Oklahoma City and renaming the team to the Thunder. This move from the NBA and team owner was met with prominent fan criticism. However, Nate Nanzer announced there will be no expansion teams heading into the 2020 season.
Overwatch League is the first professional league to have global competition, unlike MLB, NHL, and various soccer associations. Challenges come ahead for the league, but if Blizzard is able to overcome those challenges, they will innovate not only how esports leagues are managed, but can bring change to traditional sports.
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