The Overwatch League
The Overwatch League (OWL) is the most important competition for Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, which is one of the best multiplayer first-person shooters available today. Players in this game have to cooperate well and excel in a variety of ways in order to be successful, as Overwatch is very fast-paced for its genre, much like StarCraft 2 is for an RTS.
The standard format of an OWL match is 6 vs. 6 and the battle takes place over four maps with different formats and objectives. If the score is tied after those four maps are over, a fifth map will be played. The game revolves around heroes with unique abilities and is a mixture of the FPS and MOBA genres.
The initial plans for OWL were presented by Blizzard a fairly long time ago, towards the end of 2012 and right after the boom of esports and esports betting. Thanks to the arrival of twitch.tv and a few other streaming platforms, the industry as a whole started to become more and more popular among casual gamers. So, naturally, a large gaming company like Blizzard wanted to get involved in the action, especially since they had been one of the original companies that contributed to the growth of esports, thanks to their StarCraft and StarCraft 2 titles. In many ways, Blizzard was one of the founding fathers of esports and it was time for them to claim what was rightfully theirs. However, SC 2 was slowly dying and so they needed something else to grab people’s attention.
Unlike most esports, Blizzard decided to use a model that’s closer to what’s been done in traditional sports in North America, giving investors the opportunity to acquire players and teams. Robert Kraft and Stan Kroenke, two owners of big NFL teams (New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams) liked this idea and approached Blizzard for talks. Others did a similar thing and in the end, we had the first OWL season, with 12 competitors and 3.6 million dollars on the line. Of course, the prize pool was a tiny fraction of the league’s revenues.
Overwatch got released more than three years ago, on May 25th, 2016, and became an instant success with tens of millions of players joining in. Fast forward to January 10th, 2018 and The Overwatch League began its Inaugural Season with 12 teams and great casters and analysts, some of whom had been “stolen” from other esports titles. Initially, industry experts feared that OWL would be dead on arrival, but it turned out very quickly that OWL was here to stay and the success of the league was even greater than it had been predicted.
As a result of OWL’s huge success, the second season began with 20 teams instead of 12 and a higher prize pool of five million dollars.