2018 Overwatch League Grand Finals at Barclays Center. (Photo: Activision Blizzard)
The Overwatch League is going on the road.
The esports league introduced by video game publisher Activision Blizzard last year announced its fledgling Overwatch League will move to home city competition starting in 2020.
The shift will allow all 20 of the league’s teams to play in venues within their host cities and travel for road matches against competitors.
The announcement was made during the South by Southwest Festival in Austin on Friday.
Entering its second season, the league – featuring Blizzard’s first-person shooter video game “Overwatch” – currently hosts all teams’ matches live at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles.
“We’ve been working on this challenge for two years now, and I think a lot of the way we structured the league today will make sense when we move to 2020,” said Nate Nanzer, commissioner of the Overwatch League, in an interview with USA TODAY.
The league is divided into two divisions – Atlantic and Pacific – with 10 teams in each division. Nanzer said the schedule is set up where teams will play opponents in their own divisions more often, similar to how traditional sports leagues work.
Making the scheduling more complex is the inclusion of teams in several countries, including two European teams, one Korean team, and four based in China.
Nanzer said teams will operate similarly to traditional sports teams, where one might, for example, embark on a West Coast swing to play teams in those regions.
“We think we’ve come up with a scheduling model that really allows for the global vision to be realized while minimizing the impact of back and forth of travel on the teams and players,” he said.
Details on venues and ticket prices are expected to come from the teams individually later this year, said Nanzer.
Shifting to a home city competitive structure is a key move for the Overwatch League, which Nanzer said has enjoyed “tremendous success” since its inaugural season in 2018. The league has picked up two key sponsors: Coca-Cola and State Farm.
Meanwhile, Nanzer said viewership is up during its second season, with total reach of viewers during its opening weekend hitting 13 million, up 30 percent from last year.
Also, for its second season, the league expanded from 12 teams to 20 teams, adding markets including Washington, D.C., Paris, Toronto and Atlanta.
Fans will get an early taste of Overwatch League in their town through a series of “homestand weekends,” starting with an event in Dallas next month. Similar events are planned for Atlanta in July and downtown Los Angeles in August.
Nanzer said the move to standard home and away games should help teams build roots in their communities and bolster their fanbases.
“The same reason it’s more fun to go to a (Los Angeles) Dodger game than to watch a Dodger game on TV is the fact that you’re there with 40,000 other people that also love the Dodgers, and you have that shared experience and connection from cheering on the team,” he said. “And esports are no different.”
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Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.
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