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Is Blizzard's Esports Ambitions Scaring Away eSports Teams?

New reports highlight ongoing negotiations with Overwatch's esports division.

News by Matt Kim, .

A recent ESPN report surrounding Activision Blizzard's "struggle" to sign new esports teams to participate in the company's Overwatch league suggests that the video game company's troubles stem from an exorbitantly high buy-in cost. The price to participate in the league is reportedly $20 million--though Kotaku notes it could be as low as $15 million for some teams.

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Either way, the price is much higher that other esports leagues. For comparison, a spot on the League of Legends Championship series was sold for $1.8, almost a tenth of what Blizzard Activision is reportedly asking for.

Blizzard addressed these claims, which come from unnamed sources close to the negotiations, by clarifying "rumors" and, "reports circulating unverified and wildly ranging rumors from anonymous sources about purported deal terms, team pricing, and other details."

Blizzard explains that while its ultimate goal for the Overwatch esports ecosystem is to buoy the Overwatch League to ambitious heights, the company is quick to clarify its relationship with endemics.

"We'd like to dispel any rumors that we're ignoring endemics. Anyone who knows Blizzard understands how deeply we are 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."

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These "ambitious heights" could refer to some of the unorthodox things Blizzard appears to be pursuing with its Overwatch League, including setting up a situation where poorly performing teams could be replaced by more exciting prospects. Blizzard is also reportedly looking into city-based teams, much like traditional sports, hence why the ESPN reports suggests the bidding war could be even higher in major cities like New York and Los Angeles.

USgamer reached out to Blizzard to help clarify some remarks in the statement, including how exactly endemic esports and traditional sports are being brought into the project. Blizzard responded that it is unable to provide "additional information to share above and beyond the statement at this time."

It's important to note that Blizzard hasn't necessarily dispelled any of the rumors surrounding its Overwatch League negotiations. However, from everything we know about Blizzard's plans for setting up an Overwatch esports division, it's not hard to see why Blizzard could be courting traditional sports establishments. Especially considering the way Blizzard has been setting up the League as a more structured and traditional-sounding sports league compared to the less regulated professional gaming leagues.

You can read the full Blizzard statement below:

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.

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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #1 UnskippableCutscene 8 months ago
    Blizzard can yell "fake news" all they want at the rumors, but you have players confirming that teams are dissolving over the cost. Not just fly by night players, but well established names like Team SoloMid. They don't even participate in my favorite games, but I know who they are and I assume they know what they're doing.

    There's a whole bunch of investors, as well as owners like Robert Kraft and retired sports celebrities who want to be the next Magic Johnson (LA Dodgers investor) and get in on the next big thing. Blizzard is trying to make this thing needlessly resemble North American pro sports (regional territorial rights, broadcasting deals, revenue sharing, etc) to woo them, but real sports is a monopoly riding atop a TV broadcasting rights bubble that pops when people who don't like sports are tired of paying to subsidize them with their TV dollars.

    On top of that, Blizzard's greed is cranking things up to the point that these kingpins might actually balk. A fee to buy a team and a fee to sell them? Rich people buy sports teams because they're inevitably worth more money as a limited number are available at any time, but having to pay bribe money to join and leave will scare people who aren't sure if they're actually going to make a profit anytime soon.

    How they monetize it will be another issue. There's no chance at all of the free Twitch stream MOBA fans are used to, they plan to use MLG TV and it sounds like charge people to watch anything. If they're going to do that, they should really take the "WWE pay per view" approach and broadcast qualifying rounds etc for free, and yes on competing platforms with more eyeballs. Then, if you want to see who wins the grand prize, the final round is a paid event.Edited May 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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