Blizzard unveils the first seven Overwatch League teams

The journey to the Overwatch League took a big step forward today with the official announcement of the league's first seven owners, which is an 85.7 percent match to the list of teams that leaked last week. The seven teams represent "just our first announcement," Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer said, adding that "additional announcements about other teams joining the league" will be made between now and its launch later this year. 

“Overwatch already connects over 30 million players worldwide. The Overwatch League will celebrate and reward our most accomplished players and give fans more opportunities to engage with each other,” Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in a statement. “We’re excited to be working with leaders from esports and traditional sports to celebrate our players and to establish the Overwatch League.” 

The first seven confirmed owners are: 

  • Robert Kraft, Chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots (Boston)
  • Jeff Wilpon, Co-Founder and Partner of Sterling.VC and COO of the New York Mets (New York)
  • Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals (Los Angeles)
  • Ben Spoont, CEO and Co-Founder of Misfits Gaming (Miami-Orlando)
  • Andy Miller, Chairman and Founder of NRG Esports (San Francisco)
  • NetEase (Shanghai)
  • Kevin Chou, Co-founder of Kabam (Seoul)     

"The interesting difference in the Overwatch League structure versus some other esports leagues is the fact that we're anchoring teams to cities, [which] we think is going to unlock a tremendous amount of revenue for teams that don't exist in esports today. You look at traditional sports, teams make a lot of money because of the fact that they have a venue where they can sell tickets and concessions and merchandise and all those things. It doesn't exist in esports today, and we think the time is right," Nanzer said.   

"There are huge audiences all over the world that love to engage in this content live, we see it every year at BlizzCon and all the other events we put on, and we think by putting teams in cities around the world, it'll give more fans a chance to engage in content live, connect with other fans, share their passion for competitive Overwatch, and create a league for the long term."

Nanzer said that Blizzard has been "very thoughtful" in its approach to structuring the Overwatch League. Teams will earn equal shares of "league-wide net revenues," but they'll also keep the majority of local revenues—"a very small percentage" will go back into the League pool—generated through licensing, sponsorships, sales of physical and virtual merchandise, and the operation of up to five amateur esports tournaments in their home market each year.

"We looked a lot at our history at Blizzard, begin involved in esports for nearly two decades, and we looked at a lot of traditional sports and looked at what structures make the most sense," he explained. "We've come up with a league where we really think it's going to create consistency and stability for teams and players and fans, which I think is really important for esports. The city-based format, with home and away matches, we think is going to be really important in sort of taking esports to the next level."

The first season of the Overwatch League will be played exclusively in an esports arena in Los Angeles, however, "to give our teams time to build their local capability. There's a lot of work that goes into turning the lights on at a venue and making sure that they have the infrastructure in place in order to host home games. So we're giving our teams some time to do that and we're hopeful that we'll be up and running with the home-away format as soon as our teams are ready.

And while Nanzer declined to confirm or comment on Overwatch franchise fees, which have been rumored to be $20 million or more, he did say reports that Blizzard has had difficulty attracting teams to its new league are "just not true."

"We've had a tremendous response. Case in point is the seven teams that we're announcing today, three of which are endemic to esports—Who better to validate the opportunity than brands that are competing in esports today? They see the opportunity that the Overwatch League presents," he said. "These seven teams that we're announcing today represent just the first seven teams that we've signed, but we're in active conversations with numerous parties in regions all over the world, and continue to see tremendous interest in what we're building."

An official start date for the Overwatch League still hasn't been revealed, but it remains set to debut later this year. Find out more at overwatchleague.com.