Overwatch League Playoffs Being Aired on ESPN
The Overwatch League playoffs are happening in Brooklyn and are being televised on ESPN. No, not ESPN 2, which has shown Overwatch, Halo, Street Fighter and other esports for years now—the Overwatch League playoffs are going to be regular ESPN. The audience for one of the most popular FPS games of all times is already significant, but it’s about to get a lot bigger.
The Overwatch League playoffs are getting aired Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th. Highlights are also being broadcast later on Disney’s ABC on July 29. Even though ESPN is distinctly American, this is a big step towards globalizing esports as well.
The Overwatch League, which is the official league run through Activision-Blizzard (the publishers and developers of Overwatch), is a worldwide stage that has made many strides towards bridging the gap between esports and casual viewers. It has worldwide teams from multiple countries that have their own jerseys and colors, evocative of a regular sports league. London Spitfire, Dallas Fuel, Boston Uprising, and Seoul Dynasty are a few of the teams that put a distinct gaming “brand” on a classic sports concept. Their logos are memorable and their fans numerous, and now they are going to be showcased on the biggest stage yet: prime-time cable television.
This matters a lot for internet media conglomerates that have overtaken more “traditional” media companies that dominate TV spaces. Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, continues to grow, while Google attempts to compete with YouTube…and it seems now that cable television has been caught in the crossfire of internet development yet again.
That doesn’t even mention the Asian companies that run their own streaming services for huge esports tournaments, like Huya (which is currently in the middle of a sizeable stock rise). South Korea, for example, has had televised Starcraft tournaments (another Activision-Blizzard series) for years and years now, with relatively mainstream success. This is massive news for countries that have yet to have that kind of mainstream gaming success that breaks into the non-gaming culture, like Russia, England, Brazil, Chile, and other countries that are sure to take notice of this.
Establishing a foothold on regular television, let alone prime time television on the biggest sports network in Western media, is a gigantic undertaking for esports as a whole. It’s something that Blizzard is likely comfortable with, given their experience working with huge entertainment companies in television and film; this is something that companies like Valve and Riot might be pretty unfamiliar with, at least in comparison. Blizzard is the one to take these gigantic strides in changing the esports climate, just as they always have done; they are making their mark as innovators in the grand scheme of things, even if their game is “just an FPS with some flashy characters.”
It’s worth noting that esports is a rising phenomenon on college campuses (which everyone saw coming), with some colleges opting for partnerships with esports companies like Tespa to run their streams and around fifty colleges opting to have official esports teams and scholarships. With esports and the Overwatch League playoffs being showcased on prime-time ESPN hours, this might be a cue for more universities worldwide to follow suit and make more money off of potential student e-athletes.
Growth in viewership comes from both “inside” and “outside” the gaming community as a whole. The majority of game-players do not watch esports tournaments and streams, and those that do not watch regularly, so this is something to bridge the gap for those that play these sorts of games casually. There are plenty of viewers to be gained from gamers who are vaguely familiar with Overwatch, as well as tons of non-gamers who will be tuning in to ESPN to see video games getting played for vast amounts of money in Brooklyn.
Because this is such uncharted territory, it’s unknown what kind of impact this will have in the long term. It could get a massive new wave of Overwatch players to join in the fun, or it could be a slow continuation of Blizzard’s growth in the mainstream; the short-term, mid-term and long-term for Overwatch will no doubt benefit from cable television exposure, but it is unclear just yet in what capacity.
All of this is huge news for anyone who has yet to get in on the ground floor of esports in general. If anyone has been thinking about investing in specific companies, starting a team, creating web content, or even just entering the space as a competitor, the time is now—there’s nowhere to go but up for competitive gaming.