Blizzard announced the Overwatch League last November, saying that its goal was to put together the "world's premier esports league," with city-based teams and minimum salaries and benefits packages for players. It's been unexpectedly quiet on that front since then, however, and despite the game's success on the competitive scene and optimistic predictions for the future, not a single Overwatch League team has been announced.
The main reason for that, according to an ESPN report from yesterday, is that the company is simply asking for too much money: "Multiple sources" told the site that the base franchise fee is $20 million, with the cost increasing for larger markets like New York and Los Angeles. That's a huge amount of money—the site noted that a spot in the League of Legends LCS went for a relatively paltry $1.8 million in December—yet teams aren't guaranteed revenue sharing until after 2021, and only if they meet certain undisclosed criteria. The struggle to acquire teams under the current terms has led to suggestions from "some organizations" that the league may not be able to launch later this year, as is currently expected.
There have been some very visible ups and downs in the days prior to that report: RLewisReports said earlier this week that, according to anonymous sources, the owners of the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins NFL teams have purchased spots in the league, while via Kotaku, five established pro esports teams, including compLexity, Team SoloMid, and Denial, have all droped their Overwatch rosters.
In the wake of all that, Blizzard has issued a statement addressing the controversy, and what it called "unverified and wildly ranging rumors."
We appreciate that there's a lot of enthusiasm about the Overwatch League, which has translated into months of speculation—including reports circulating unverified and wildly ranging rumors from anonymous sources about purported deal terms, team pricing, and other details. We understand the interest in the rumors, and we feel it’s important to clarify some things for our community.
First, 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.
Second, we'd like to dispel any rumors that we're ignoring endemics. 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.
Finally, it's important to think twice about statements from unnamed sources, who may try to leverage the media to deliberately spread misinformation as bargaining tactics or for other competitive reasons. We look forward to officially sharing real details about the league and the ecosystem as a whole as we continue the development process. In the meantime we are staying focused on our goal of creating an awesome Overwatch esports experience for players, partners, and fans, and we want to thank everyone for their continued support.
Regardless of the issues it may be struggling with, Blizzard recently took a big step toward establishing the Overwatch League with the announcement of the "full integration" of MLG as a division dedicated to "management, operation, sales, and distribution for Overwatch esports programs, including the Overwatch League and Overwatch World Cup." Activision acquired MLG in 2015 for $46 million.