Blizzard have revealed their next move in supporting the Overwatch esports scene — an official Overwatch League beginning in 2017.
Overwatch was released in May and so far several third-party tournaments and leagues have emerged, most notably ELEAGUE's Overwatch Open and ESL's Atlantic Showdown at Gamescom. Blizzard themselves are holding the Overwatch World Cup, with the quarterfinal round set to begin today.
The formation of the league aims to bring sustainability to Overwatch esports, promising that once teams are in the league their spots are secure, and that players can expect contracts with salaries and benefits when they are signed by league teams.
"The Overwatch League represents not only the pinnacle of Overwatch competition, but also a genuine career opportunity for the most skilled Overwatch players," said Mike Morhaime, CEO and co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment in a press release. "We’re building a league that’s accessible to players and fans, sustainable, and exciting for everyone involved."
The first season of the Overwatch League will take place in 2017. According to Blizzard's informational video about the League, the first step will be to have team owners bid for spots. Each team "will represent major cities from different regions," according to the press release.
This is meant "to support the growth and sustainability of local fan bases," as opposed to fans always following players from team to team, as often occurs in esports. This move to a very sports-like city based system is unprecedented in esports, where organizations often struggle to retain fan support after the loss of a star player or roster.
Once the teams have been established, Blizzard will hold a combine, taking place "early next year." A combine in traditional sports is an event where athletes take part in tests of skill and drills to show off their abilities to coaches or scouts.
Players who have distinguished themselves throughout 2016 will be invited to the Overwatch combine, where they will have the opportunity to perform for team owners. The combine will be followed by a signing period before the start of the first season.
The regular season games will consist of LAN play in front of live audiences, but Blizzard have not announced any locations where League games will be held. Season Playoffs will also be held at LAN events.
Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore esports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter.