We have long opined on Rally Point that for esports to take the next step towards long-term health, a developer had to do more than just own the league but also help operate the league's teams. Today Blizzard announced that they are doing just that in a press release sent to Bleacher Report.
The Overwatch League will be an officially sanctioned entity that aims to solve the team and player stability issues that have plagued many esports. Kicking off in 2017, the Overwatch League will do far more than just address instability; it will aim to be the blueprint for running a global, competitive gaming league.
Beginning next year, owners will bid for the right to represent major cities throughout the world. While the list of cities is yet unannounced, we do know that cities in the Americas, Europe, China, Korea and the Asian Pacific will all be represented. Once an owner's bid is accepted, their team will have a guaranteed spot in the league. The announcement also hints that the teams will do more than just represent a city but will also get to play in front of their "hometown" crowds, adding a local element desperately missing from esports.
It's not just teams that will be impacted by this new league structure. Players will also enjoy a range of benefits and clarity from Overwatch League, including, most importantly, guaranteed contracts. The announcement was light on details, but each player will receive a contract that grants them a minimum base salary as well as benefits. No word on exactly what these contracts will entail (such as contract length, performance bonuses, etc.), but this is already a huge step in the right direction.
Blizzard also clarified the path to becoming a pro in the Overwatch League, proving that they want to not only bring on existing pro players but also discover new ones. According to Blizzard's announcement, an invitation-only player combine will be held at the beginning of the season to help round out team's rosters, implying that the combine will not be the only way into the league. The announcement trailer highlights factors such as performances in the ladder, as well as third party tournaments when determining if a player will receive an invitation.
Another interesting element of the announcement demonstrates that Blizzard understands the important part star players have in growing any professional sport. Blizzard will be creating editorial and video content highlighting players on their path through the combine. Starting from the very beginning will help build personalities and give fans more reasons to cheer for their hometown players and teams. All of this content will live on a centralized website that will also include stats, schedules and league news.
For everything that we do know, there are still a lot of questions to answer. How much will the guaranteed contracts be worth? What is the cost to bid for a city? Will existing organizations be allowed to buy into the league, similar to what we've seen in LCS? Keep tuned to Bleacher Report for answers to these questions as more as we continue our BlizzCon 2016 coverage throughout the weekend.