Esports meets mainstream: OWL's new team brands are good for orgs, leagues and even players

by Daniel Rosen Oct 11
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard / Dallas Fuel

Dallas Fuel is not my favorite name for an esports team, but Blizzard's strategy of making teams have new brands to participate in the Overwatch League is a savvy move.

Blizzard is requiring every team in the Overwatch League to come up with a totally new name and brand for their rosters. So far we've seen the Shanghai Dragons, owned by NetEase in China, and the Dallas Fuel, owned by Team Envy. Neither is a spectacular name by any stretch of the imagination, but Blizzard's theory makes a lot of sense, and I think it's an idea we'll see other esports leagues adopt moving forward.

On Blizzard's end, this makes perfect sense. For one, Blizzard doesn't want to be in the business of advertising other leagues with the Overwatch League. The Madison Square Garden Company owns the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers, but the NBA doesn't want to advertise the Rangers, and the NHL doesn't want to advertise the Knicks, so the two brands have to be separate, despite being owned by one company.

On top of that, it gives the Overwatch League a fresh start, separate from Overwatch's less-than-stellar history in the esports space. Competitive Overwatch has struggled to pick up viewers, and while it's impossible to say if the Overwatch League will change that, having a fresh set of teams and brands could avoid some of the existing stigma around the space. No baggage makes it easier for new fans to get involved, since they don't have to worry about the team's history, if that's somehow a factor for them.

It's also a pretty solid deal for the orgs who are making new brands. This is standard practice for traditional sports organizations, but esports orgs don't really lose too much. Their existing fans will likely know who's who thanks to social media, and if they don't, the rosters should clue them in. Plus, the org itself gets to sell another jersey.

Of course, there are concerns. These organizations have spent a long time building up their brands, and they have a lot of value to existing esports fans. These fans already have merchandise, and the people who have stuck with Overwatch likely have a lot of affection for their favorite teams. However, those fans are still fans of Overwatch more than they are fans of any one team's branding, and if their favorite team is still around in the OWL, it shouldn't be too hard of a switch over.

I think that's why you're going to see it become something we see in more leagues if other esports titles choose to follow the OWL format. Like I mentioned earlier, leagues don't want to advertise the competition, and forcing each team to have a unique brand in each league avoids the problem entirely without harming the organizations themsleves too much. It also allows orgs more flexibility in terms of compartmentalizing their teams. Investment, infrastructure, even selling rosters can all be separated from the organization's core brand if some teams are under different banners.

I'm not saying this is going to happen immediatly, or even that it's an entirely painless process. For one, the names are going to need some work. Esports teams have never had the best names, but Shanghai Dragons is pretty generic and Dallas Fuel is both uncomfortably tied to fossil fuels and just kind of awkward.

But more importantly, teams are going to need to figure out how they retain their existing brand identity while under a new brand, or even various new, separate brands. The hardest thing is going to be, for example, making sure Envy fans are also Dallas Fuel fans without leaving one organization in the cold. It increases the work, but could theoretically increase the reward as well.

Grade: B — Forced rebranding is entirely unproven, but teams don't seem too upset about it so far. In my experience, some organizations see this as a challenge to create a brand that resonates with their existing fanbase, while also coming up with a slightly less esports-y name. If it works well for the OWL, I think you're going to see it get adopted pretty quickly. If not, well, I guess it just runs out of fuel.

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.