Many eSports work more on a ranking system and have minor and major tournaments which mirror sports like Tennis. As a way of structuring the year ahead, it gives a team the opportunity to qualify or be invited to participate, which isn’t a bad thing but it does make following a favourite team a little complicated.
Certain teams won’t bother with the lower ranking events or won’t be able to attend due to competing elsewhere.
What Overwatch League has done has pulled together the best teams and given them somewhere to compete weekly. This has allowed for a much simpler format that is easier to understand and become invested in.
eSports Industry Veteran Adam Heath explains “The esports scene hasn’t seen a format like the OWL on this scale which is part of the reason for its success.
“Taking on the format of professional American sports makes it far easier for mainstream media and spectators to understand.
“This makes following it more appealing to the non-esports people and promotes the growth of viewership outside the normal demographic.”
The simple fact that teams are connected to major cities around the world give fans in those locations a reason to be invested.
The London Spitfire, for example, have talented players from Korea, owned by an American company but the team still has its most significant following in the UK because people want to be invested.
Already in its short time, Overwatch League has a compelling narrative around all the teams. You have New York, who has been the number one team since the start and they have shown no signs of slowing down. They are the team to beat, and it really puts a target on them.
Then you have teams like the Shanghai Dragons who are yet to win a game in the league. They have a loyal following and the day that they win a match will have fans of all teams jumping for joy. Well, every side other than the ones they beat.
With Overwatch League hitting a note with a more mainstream audience, these fans have started to treat it like a more traditional sport. London has a plethora of pubs that will show the games live while fans all get together and cheer their team. These fans are also so invested that they’ll eve start dropping a few quid here and there on the outcomes of games.
Bookmaker Paddy Power says that eSports betting has exploded in popularity over the last 18 months.
Spokesman Lee Price said: “A couple of years ago, our traders might’ve laughed if I’d asked them to price up eSports tournaments.
“Now, they’re covering things like the Overwatch League as avidly as they would any other sporting event – offering betting markets regularly.
“The interest in these markets has been surprisingly strong, too. “While it’s still nowhere near the levels of football or racing – gambling is restricted to the over 18s, after all – the number of bets placed on events has soared by 1,000% between each event covered.
“Clearly, the league format of Overwatch – which is the most popular eSports strand for us – makes it more exciting and has a growing following.
“We expect this trend to continue, and have even discussed setting up a dedicated eSports trading team.”
The people at Blizzard have spent a lot of time and effort to make this first inaugural season one that resonates with all types of fans. It’s impressive how well it is already doing.
The fact that fans are coming together weekly like no eSport before it shows that people want to be invested; you just need to give them the tools to do so.