Blizzard Responds To Controversial Rumours Of $20 Million Overwatch League Buy-In Fee

Blizzard's official Overwatch League is supposed to be the thing that catapults Overwatch esports to the next level. This week, though, it's become an ominous cloud hanging over the scene.

In the past nine days, nine days, no less than five esports organisations have dropped their Overwatch teams.

Why so many? And why now? A report recently published by ESPN sheds some light on that, alleging that Blizzard is asking teams — both native to esports and with backgrounds in traditional sports like football — to pay a $US20 million franchise fee if they want in.

ESPN heard it can escalate in major cities like LA and New York, but I've heard it can hit a lower range ($US15 million/$20 million or so) as well. For comparison's sake, buying into League of Legends' League Championship Series (LCS) — a larger and more established esport — apparently costs $US1.8 million. On top of that, organisations are allegedly not guaranteed revenue sharing until 2021. ESPN cites multiple anonymous sources, and I've got two anonymous sources of my own saying similar things.

In addition, one source I spoke to claimed that Blizzard's not being particularly flexible about the price. You either buy a spot on Blizzard's terms or you don't. They added that Blizzard's been talking with investors about Overwatch League since BlizzCon, but pricing details only began to trickle out a couple weeks ago, which would explain the timing of all this.

They also noted that one big concern is Overwatch League's ability to pull in large live audiences, which would lead to ticket sales, merch sales, and other money making opportunities beneficial to both teams and Blizzard. While Overwatch's young esports scene has produced some excellent moments, pro Overwatch events have, thus far, not proven to be much of a draw on platforms like Twitch.

On top of that, Overwatch's spectator tools are sorely lacking and make high-level play confusing to watch for newcomers. Blizzard has said on multiple occasions that they're looking to improve that side of the game, but they have yet to show anything that inspires much confidence.

In addition, two sources have told me of fairly widespread concerns that Overwatch League isn't as far along as it should be at this point, and there are fears of a delay from its planned fall launch.

In response to all this, Blizzard sent along a statement that did not refute any specific reports, but cast suspicion upon them by noting that some parties might be interested in spreading "misinformation" in order to give themselves advantages in negotiations.

"First," they told Kotaku, "we want to be clear that our ultimate goal is to create an exciting Overwatch esports ecosystem, the pinnacle of which will be the Overwatch League, that's accessible to a wide audience, sustainable, and rewarding for everyone involved. We're doing our best to take great care with building this ecosystem, and as with much of what we do, we don't release information until we're at a place where it makes sense to do so."

They added that they're not trying to alienate organisations native to esports. "We'd like to dispel any rumours that we're ignoring endemics," they said.

"Anyone who knows Blizzard understands how deeply we care about the communities around our games. The league is built upon the best elements of endemic esports programs and traditional sports, and we're in active discussions with many teams and owners from both worlds because it will take a village to stand up a league with such an unprecedented structure. Those conversations have been going well and there's a lot of excitement around our ambitious plans."

More details, they concluded, will be coming in the future.

For now, however, we can't ignore the fact that large esports organisations keep dropping their Overwatch teams, some citing an overly high price, and Overwatch itself still has a long way to go before it's easy to watch for people who aren't diehard fans.

This isn't to say that Overwatch doesn't have potential to be a great, mainstream-friendly esport. I think it does! Matches are short but exciting, strategies are fairly easy to explain, and 20 million people already play it. The game has pushed a number of esports/MOBA-like concepts further into the mainstream eye, and that's no small feat. But there's still a long road ahead, and I can understand people's concerns that Blizzard might be putting the cart before the horse. Or the payload before the Roadhog, as it were.


    Rather a large buy in for a game that still has rather questionable competitive balance.

      Its pretty horrible and worse yet Blizzard's recent track record on the esport scene is pretty poor (see Hearthstone and Starcraft 2). They aren't filling a lot of the multi-title teams with confidence about the platform.

      Spectating tools for OW make watching hightier play just about unwatchable. It more often than not looks like chaos and its hard to discern if plays are being made or if everyone is being purely reactionary.

    "Anyone who knows Blizzard understands how deeply we care about the communities around our games.
    As someone who has bought and played every blizzard game for the last 20 years I can say modern blizzard truly does NOT care about they're communities. Bliz has shifted more and more every year lately to being just about the money. While I'm sure they have some passionate developers who put there heart and soul into the games these aren't the people who make the decisions any more. They have been coasting by on their reputation for years now and every stuff up like this hurts them more and more.

      Ever since Activision bought Blizzard it's been downhill. Soulless corporation greed gets in the way of fun apparently - Blizzard is now a husk of what it used to be.

        That would make a lot of sense, the merger happened three months before WoW:Wrath dropped; which is largely considered to be when the game started going down hill.

          Vivendi had the controlling share in the merger, but the CEO of Activision Blizzard was from Activision. Only in 2013/14 did Activision buyout enough shares to become the majority.

          Coincidently that was also the first xpac when they lost the original writing director (or whatever his title was) for the game, which I think probably hurt WoW a lot more. Now he's back, the storyline has had a much better reception. Still early days in the return tho, too early to tell. I definitely agree that in general Bliz has been more about the dough lately tho. The Diablo 3 RMAU showed that.

            Hearthstone is another easy example. Magic is pretty cancer, but holy crap is Hearthstone worse.

      I thought the exact same thing when I read it, it was the line that stood out the most, and my reaction was BULLSHIT. it should of said "Anyone who knows Blizzard understands how deeply we care about padding our pockets, everyone else can GGF".

    I think a parable about a certain metallic coloured avian comes to mind....

    Typically big budget duality. On one hand a passionate group of devs really loving the game they ahve made, who understand connecting with customers on a emotional level will pay for itself in time. Then you have the big business fixing $$$ price tags on things like this and having it so loot boxes are far more like legalised gambling than rewarding customers with a minimum amount of annoyance. (EG not having it so greys and blue cant be duplicated. so the more we pay or play the less the loot pool is)

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