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Volume 24 No. 216
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Questions Remain For OWL On City-Based Model, Diversity, Marketing

OWL execs believe city-based franchising will help broaden the league's audience
Photo: BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT

Esports has "been something of a siren call to investors with its tantalizing metrics, but it also came with nascent, messy competition and business structures," something Overwatch League has "sought to correct," according to Noah Smith of the WASHINGTON POST. OWL's stakeholders feel its city-based concept "will help broaden the audience by allowing new fans to more easily follow game play and identify with teams." Grizzlies and OWL L.A. Valiant investor Steve Kaplan said, "People like being part of something where they have local affiliation." The young demos for esports also "hold great appeal to investors outside the sports world." Former Paramount Pictures Vice Chair Rob Moore, who is OWL L.A. Gladiators President & GM, said, "It’s one of the issues the movie business struggles with the most: ‘How do we reach people under 30?’ This is a business built on people under 30." Smith noted the "long-term viability of the OWL remains an open question." Esports advisory firm Catalyst Sports & Media Exec VP Bryce Blum: "League of Legends Championship Series has a bigger player base, a proven track record, massive viewership and is selling out stadiums. But Overwatch is a new game, so it’s nowhere near its full potential." OWL's opening day on Jan. 10 had a setup "akin to a slick TV game show, but the sellout crowd, numbering 530 according to the league, gave off a feel similar to a small, but anticipated, college basketball game." Other events like the League of Legends World Championship "draw spectators numbering in the tens of thousands." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft, who owns the OWL Boston Uprising, said, "It’s hard at this point to put (esports players) in that (celebrity) category, but I do believe, five, 10 years from now, that’s the way it will be" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/18).

CITY STATES: THE RINGER's Ben Lindbergh wrote the OWL N.Y. Excelsior franchise presents an "unfamiliar dilemma for fans and players alike: Can a team truly represent a city, and secure that city’s support, if it has no real roots in the region?" The Excelsior do not appear to be "doing the best job of building its brand, despite being blessed with a large market." The team ranks "fourth in YouTube and Reddit subscribers but eighth and ninth, respectively, in Instagram and Twitter followers." Almost "all of the marketing for the team has been online-only, with the sole exception of an OWL-financed rotating digital billboard in Times Square, which ... doesn't name the Excelsior or indicate that they’re a New York-affiliated team" (THERINGER.com, 1/17).

GENDER EQUITY: OWL's opening-day rosters were "universally male, a notable embarrassment for an organization whose logo features a female hero and whose cast of in-game characters is consciously inclusive." OWL Commissioner Nate Nanzer in an email wrote, "The more professional and welcoming esports as a whole becomes, the more women will feel empowered to participate  -- and ultimately succeed" (THERINGER.com, 1/17). POLYGON's Ashley Oh wrote under the header, "An Overwatch Women’s League Isn’t The Answer." A "growing industry like esports has room to stretch its legs -- but right now, it’s a boys’ club" (POLYGON.com, 1/18).

IN-VENUE EXPERIENCE: THE VERGE's Andrew Webster wrote Blizzard Arena looks "more like a TV studio than the home of a world-class competitive league," as it was "clearly created with broadcasting in mind." Attendees are "greeted by a large shop selling team jerseys and keychains, and there’s a tiny concession stand tucked away as you walk to the seats." The "dominating feature of the arena" is the actual set where the players compete, which is "sleek and metallic." The OWL's home venue for at least its first two seasons "brings in elements from TV to in-person matches." The audience "can actually hear the play-by-play commentary," which "adds another layer of excitement to the live experience." The crowd also remains a "crucial component" to the experience (THEVERGE.com, 1/16).