Now backed by Fortnite developer Epic Games, Rocket League is considering a move to a franchise model for its esports series as publisher Psyonix positions it for growth in the competitive gaming space.
Rocket League, released by Psyonix in 2015, is a video game based around cars playing five-minute soccer games. Epic Games announced in May that it acquired Psyonix for an undisclosed fee.
Because it is a simple game that doesn’t involve guns and has built a solid niche audience, industry executives are largely bullish on Rocket League’s potential as an esport, with the caveat that its potential is likely less than the world’s foremost esports like Fortnite, League of Legends and Overwatch. Still, Rocket League was one of two games chosen for the Intel World Open event that will be held at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, underscoring how alluring it is to competitive gaming organizers.
“From our perspective, Rocket League has strong potential and we’re just now starting to scratch the surface (in esports),” said Jeremy Dunham, Psyonix’s vice president of publishing. “We’ve always been very bullish on Rocket League as an esport because it is one of the only video games/esports that we’re aware of that is based on an endemic sport … but is also very different from traditional soccer because you fly and use vehicles instead of feet, so it’s a very nice twist on something familiar.”
Psyonix has several different series for Rocket League, with its premier one being the Rocket League Championship Series, which recently began its eighth season. The RLCS runs two different seasons a year. Rocket League action on Twitch has been averaging nearly 32,000 concurrent viewers this year — viewership for the opening weekend of RLCS Season 8 two weeks ago hovered around 75,000 viewers on Twitch. Season 8 sponsors include Axe, Intel and Tire Rack.
In the second division Rocket League Rival Series, teams compete for a chance to get promoted to the premier series, which relegates teams similar to many international soccer leagues. There is also a Collegiate Rocket League, where Psyonix offers scholarships and other funding to teams from schools around the U.S.
While the league is considering a franchise model similar to what’s been used for games such as Call of Duty, League of Legends and Overwatch, Dunham was careful to point out that Psyonix sees both pros and cons to the idea. He would not put a timeline on making a decision.
“We’ve been evaluating that for a while now and whether or not we do it is still a question for another time, but it’s definitely something we’ve talked about,” said Dunham. “It’s something the [team] organizations have been interested in, but there’s no outright evidence that says that is the only way to go.”
Still, there have been calls for franchising in Rocket League to help teams in areas such as revenue sharing. Dunham said Psyonix is still more focused on growing the game itself than making money from it. “But franchising is a big question with a lot of implications and potentially new investors and voices added to the mix, so before you want to take on something like that, you want to be sure that is the [desired] direction.”
Jason Lake is the founder and CEO of esports organization Complexity, which has a team that competes in RLCS’s European division. He said he would support franchising in Rocket League if it were structured correctly.
“If Rocket League franchises in a way that is beneficial for all stakeholders, it can be a very good thing,” Lake said. “If they ensure that teams, players and potential players are all thought of in how they design the corporate structure, there is great value to be had.”
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