- The third season of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League will begin on February 8 with matches in New York City and Dallas.
- This year the esports league will travel to the home cities of all 20 teams, with stops in North America, Europe, South Korea, and China.
- Activision Blizzard recently signed a deal with Google to bring the Overwatch League broadcasts exclusively to YouTube.
- With Overwatch League players preparing to travel more than some NBA teams this year, player health is a major concern for fans following the league. However, team owners bought into the league with the expectation that it would eventually adopt a travelling schedule.
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Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League will kick-off its third season on February 8 with a pair of events in New York City and Dallas.
All 20 Overwatch League teams will host matches in their home cities this year, a major transition that comes after the professional gaming league spent its first two seasons playing nearly every match in Activision Blizzard’s Burbank, California, studio.
The new travelling schedule will test whether the Overwatch League can generate excitement, and more important, attendance, in different regions around the world. City-based teams were a major selling point for the league and team owners reportedly invested more than $US20 million each to create esports franchises in North America, Europe, South Korea, and China. Team owners want their home stands to generate the same sort of passion and local loyalty seen in traditional sports.
Four years after release, Blizzard’s “Overwatch” is still a major hit around the world
Militaristic shooting games like “Call of Duty” and “Counter-Strike” typically dominate Western audiences, but are less popular in Asia. The diverse cast and colourful fantasy world of “Overwatch” sparked global interest, and the characters have already become video game icons.
Other popular games like “Fortnite” have gradually eaten away at the “Overwatch” player base, but Overwatch League broadcasts still manage to pull in hundreds of thousands of viewers during live events.
The Overwatch League will host live matches every weekend from February to September, with an all-star event in May.
Overwatch League matches will be held every Saturday and Sunday during the eight-month season, including a midseason all-star event bringing the league’s top players together for a series of special competitions. Venues will vary based on the team hosting – some franchises have dedicated arenas and practice facilities, while others have chosen to rent an event hall for the weekend.
During the league’s opening weekend, the New York Excelsior will play host in the historic Hammerstein Ballroom, while the Dallas Fuel will host at Esports Stadium Arlington, a $US10 million arena that opened in November 2018.
You can find the full season schedule on the official Overwatch League website.
Overwatch League viewership grew during season 2, and now the league will broadcast exclusively on YouTube.
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. Esports leagues use a metric called average minute audience (AMA) that measures how many people were watching at any given time, as opposed to the peak viewership. AMA also includes people who watched a rebroadcast within 24 hours.
Activision Blizzard recently signed a deal with Google that will bring the Overwatch League and the company’s other esports broadcasts exclusively to YouTube. Though YouTube is the internet’s most trafficked video platform, Twitch is much more popular for live broadcasts and gaming in particular. The Overwatch League’s shift to YouTube could have an impact on viewership if the Twitch audience isn’t willing to follow the league to a different platform.
The past two seasons of Overwatch League was occasionally simulcast on ESPN 2, and the Grand Finals were broadcast on ABC – it’s unclear if future television broadcasts will be impacted by league’s new partnership with Google.
Overwatch League players are earning $US114,000 on average, but fans are worried the travel schedule will lead to more stress.
Overwatch League viewership has steadily increased, but there’s concern among fans that the new travelling schedule will create additional stress for players. While teams spent the past two seasons based in Los Angeles, the new schedule will require extended international trips, with some teams expecting to leave their home country for up to a month.
For example, after hosting matches in Boston on June 28, the Uprising plans to spend the entire month of July in China with five matches scheduled in Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou between July 4th and July 26.
Our #OWL2020 schedule is HERE!
Two Boston homestands. Five weekends in Europe. A month in China. pic.twitter.com/lylNZaAdwa
— Boston Uprising (@BostonUprising) August 20, 2019
With teams recruiting talents at an international scale, dozens of players were already spending the vast majority of the eight-month regular season away from their home country. Players earned $US114,000 on average during 2019 and teams paid for player housing during the eight month season.
Last year, the average Overwatch League player was about 21 years old, based on data collected by South Korean commentator YongBongTang – players must be 18 to compete.
The coronavirus outbreak in China led the Overwatch League to reschedule matches planned for February and March.
The Overwatch League cancelled events in China through the end of March as a result of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 425 people in China and infected more than 20,000.
The league had scheduled more than a dozen matches in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou during the first two months of the season. A statement from the Shanghai Dragons said the cancelled matches will be played at a later date, but the Overwatch League hasn’t specified if the rescheduled matches will be played online or in-person.
The Overwatch League will begin its third season on February 8. You can watch live at YouTube.com/OverwatchLeague.
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