The Overwatch League is getting its first big test as an international esports organisation this season and investors have millions on the line

Ben Pursell / Overwatch LeagueThe Overwatch League crowd celebrates the New York Excelsior’s first homestand.

In February, Activision Blizzard launched the third season of the Overwatch League, an esports competition with 20 franchised teams representing cities around the world.

The Overwatch League will continue to host live competitions in North America, Europe, China, and South Korea over the course of a seven-month season. The league successfully kicked off the 2020 season with thousands of fans attending sold-out events in New York City and Dallas, and hundreds of thousands more tuning in to watch online.

The shift to a travelling schedule completes the vision of an esports league that first enticed team owners back in 2016. While the Overwatch League spent the first two seasons playing most matches in Blizzard’s Burbank, California studio, franchise owners used the last two years to prepare their teams and local fans for Overwatch League homestands.

In an interview with Business Insider, Excelsior cofounder Rohit Gupta said, “We’ve been bringing our team into the market to do meet-and-greets with our fans. We’ve been supporting the collegiate [esports] circuit as well as the high school circuit. Those are just are some of the ways we we’ve been engaging the local community specifically around Overwatch.”

“Overwatch” continues to be one of the most popular shooting games on the market.

In January, Activision announced a deal with Google to bring the Overwatch League and Activision’s other esports offerings exclusively to YouTube. The Esports Observer reported that the deal would pay Activision $US160 million over three years, with added incentives for viewership goals and ad sales.

Before the deal with Google, Amazon’s Twitch was the Overwatch League’s primary broadcast partner. Last year’s Overwatch League Grand Finals brought in 1.12 million average viewers on Twitch and ABC, an increase of 16% from the league’s first season.

The Overwatch League’s international schedule will create some challenges during this season – the league is already working to rescheduled dozens of cancelled matches planned for China and South Korea due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

But with thousands fans turning out for live events, online viewership showing growth, and a new multi-year deal with YouTube, the Overwatch League has built a firm foundation for its future. And the league’s steadily increasing fan base has helped Activision value its esports franchises at an even higher price tag.

While initial team investors paid $US20 million, Activision Blizzard added eight new expansion teams prior to the 2019 season with prices ranging between $US30 and $US60 million each for the franchise rights to join the league, ESPN reported.

Franchise investors range from endemic esports organisations with venture-capitalist backing to international media conglomerates and long-standing sports franchises like the New England Patriots.

The latest new owner, Beasley Broadcast Group, paid $US35 million to acquire the Houston Outlaws from Immortals Gaming in November 2019, Forbes reported.

Business Insider broke down all 23 investors who are pouring millions into the Overwatch League and the teams they have bought stakes in: Read our full report.

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