Overwatch League (OWL) Grand Finals 2018: Inside the Massive Esports Event
OWL would be the first e-sports league in existence to follow an American sports franchise model. Instead of ranked teams promoted by division, the system of choice in most other e-sport leagues, OWL promised teams in major urban markets, more like the NFL or NBA. Kotick described his vision of teams attached to cities around the world -- the Florida Mayhem, the Shanghai Dragons -- each offering salaries and benefits to players. Now, all he had to do to make it happen was scrounge up a dozen or so team owners with a spare $20 million in cash and a belief in the future of large-scale pro gaming.
Beating this level took over a year, somehow much longer than anyone expected. The result was the first-ever Overwatch League season, which began this past January, with 12 franchised teams in 11 urban markets backed by a mix of gaming interests and regular sports investment firms. (Most notably, the Kraft Group owns the OWL Boston Uprising team along with the New England Patriots.) The inaugural season came to a close with the two-day Overwatch League Grand Finals -- the e-sports answer to the NBA finals -- held this July at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Over 11,000 fans were in attendance. The theme of the match was CAPTURE HISTORY.
Overwatch takes place in your standard dystopian near-future: hostile robots, corporate lords, a team of noble and specially-skilled heroes fighting to save a semi-fictional earth. "Overwatch" refers to the name of this taskforce -- think of it as a renaissance man's Interpol, made up of gifted civilians around the world. There are 28 members of Overwatch in total. Compared to other videos games, their backstories and profiles are almost comically diverse.
Overwatch is pretty simple. It’s basically a gamified version of FedEx: Two teams of six compete to guide a truck as it moves along a road to its final destination. In official OWL competitions, one team of six defends the truck, while another fights to take possession. This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes; then the teams switch roles, for fairness.
Developers add new maps; characters become weaker or stronger. A good Overwatch team has skilled players, but more importantly, it has players that are good at adapting their skills to a game whose terms are always in flux. For Overwatch fans, Hank said, part of the fun of The Overwatch League is watching the meta evolve in response. Following the league is like following a sport, but it's also like reading Harry Potter or Knausgaard. Each new iteration of the game changes and deepens the nature of fandom.
It took about a hundred years for basketball to grow from a simple peach-basket game in Springfield, Massachusetts, to a full, multi-platform entertainment behemoth, with franchises worth about a billion dollars. Even with OWL starting so far along, the question remained: How far could it go? That night, for the first time ever, an e-sport was broadcast, in primetime, on the flagship ESPN. Eight new teams were announced soon after: Paris, Toronto, Atlanta, Vancouver, Washington, Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Guangzhou.
See https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/inside-overwatch-league-grand-finals-2018-esports#. More about Overwatch League itself at https://overwatchleague.com/en-us/.
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