Activision Blizzard has confirmed the end of the Overwatch League, its massive bet to cash in on the rise of esports with an NFL-style franchise system. It will reportedly pay the 20 teams involved $US120 million as everyone quietly parts ways from what was reportedly a financial debacle—despite its cultural impact for fans of Overwatch and beyond.
“We are transitioning from the Overwatch League and evolving competitive Overwatch in a new direction,” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard wrote in a statement. “We are grateful to everyone who made OWL possible and remain focused on building our vision of a revitalized esports program. We are excited to share details with you all in the near future.”
OWL originally launched back in 2017 ,the year after the popular class-based hero shooter became Blizzard’s latest breakout multiplayer hit. Twelve founding teams bought in for $US20 million a piece in the inaugural season, followed by eight more teams later on for $US35 to $US60 million each. Each team was supposed to be based in a city and build its own esports stadium, but the 2020 pandemic threw a wrench in things, as did the difficulty in monetizing matches fans that could stream online for free.
Read More: The Overwatch League As We Know It Is Dead
Jacob Wolf reported on OWL’s upcoming dissolution last week, adding that Activision Blizzard was in talks with the Saudi Arabian state-owned ESL FACEIT Group to continue Overwatch esports in an open-circuit format that most other competitive games follow. This would allow more flexibility with teams playing in tournaments as they are scheduled rather than committing to weekly matches culminating in seasonal playoffs.
Bloomberg detailed the league’s money troubles last year, reporting projected revenue goals of $US125 million in 2020 from live events, sponsorships, and merch deals that never materialized. Despite passionate fans and the momentum of the underlying game, OWL buckled under the weight of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick’s lofty ambitions. A probe by the U.S. Justice department eventually resulted in a fine and settlement over illegal player salary caps.
Fans have known this moment was coming for a while. Activision Blizzard laid off 50 people from its esports department earlier this year. Microsoft seemed unlikely to pour even more money into OWL after its $US69 billion acquisition went through last month. 2023’s Overwatch League Grand Finals “were beautiful and depressing,” wrote Kotaku senior editor, Alyssa Mercante.
OWL fans are now left with at least one parting gift thanks to the Toronto Defiant. Team owner Adam Adamou marked the league’s dissolution on social media today with an AI-generated post showing two Overwatch players walking off into the sunset amid the wreckage.
A circumsised dick can be seen jutting out of the garbage in the lower left-hand corner.