Blizzard is trying something completely new for eSports, and it is drawing inspiration from football leagues to do it. The company announced as BlizzCon 2016 that it will be starting a new Overwatch eSports league that mimics the European football leagues.
The idea is to move away from the current structure in eSports, where teams are constantly changing and players scrambling for sponsorship. Instead, Blizzard wants an environment where players are guaranteed salaries and employee benefits. Prize money will simply be a bonus of these players who make their living competing in the league. Something that resembles how more physical athletes are treated.
Blizzard executive vice president of corporate operations Gio Hunt referred to major sporting events like the Superbowl; where nobody ever talks about what the prize pool is.
Unlike the NFL, the upcoming Overwatch league will feature teams arranged into a system of promotion and demotion. Somewhat similar to what Riot Games has been doing with League of Legends. However, Blizzard wants more city based teams to draw local support for the game. In theory, this would increasing merchandising options for the participating teams; while also creating the opportunity for building rivalries similar to that in football.
Of course, the company is not ignoring third party organisers who want to run their own Overwatch events. In fact, Hunt explained that the Blizzard Overwatch league will be the pinnacle of its eSports organisation; and that there will still be support for third party tournaments.
There’s still some way to go before Blizzard rolls out the new Overwatch league, as it is scheduled to begin in Q3 2017. That being said, this looks like a completely new push for eSports and how it is conducted. Whether sponsors and teams are willing to lock themselves into such a rigid and traditional structure is a completely different story; but it might be a good thing to borrow ideas from sports organisations that are already raking in the cash.