Overwatch League strikes London deal

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

Image source, Activision Blizzard
Image caption,
Overwatch deliberately contains little gore to aid its appeal to younger audiences

The American founder of a leading e-sports business has become the first owner of a European squad in the forthcoming Overwatch League.

Jack Etienne, chief executive of Los Angeles-based Cloud9, has bought the rights to field a London team in the sci-fi video game competition.

The BBC understands he paid roughly $20m (£15.4m) for the privilege.

The league represents game producer Activision Blizzard's most ambitious venture into e-sports yet.

The company believes the "family-friendly" shooter should have wider appeal to both audiences and advertisers than existing e-sports events.

It has suggested the contest could eventually become more lucrative than England's Premier League or the US's National Football League for those involved.

The company will split revenues generated by the competition with each of its team owners.

"We view this as a major milestone marking the league as truly global - it now has representation in Europe, Asia and North America," Pete Vlastelica, an executive in Activision Blizzard's e-sports division, told the BBC.

Several of the previously announced investors had ties to traditional sports teams, including the New England Patriots American football team, the New York Mets baseball team and the Sacremento Kings basketball team.

Image source, Activision Blizzard
Image caption,
Overwatch League matches will be streamed over the internet

Mr Vlastelica said that there had been discussions with unnamed European equivalents to buy the London rights, but that Cloud9 - which already fields an Overwatch team in other competitions - had won out.

"Cloud9 may be a new name for some in the traditional sports world, but I can assure you they are not a niche or fringe player in e-sports," he said.

"As we build this league, it was really important to us to combine the capabilities of owners from both traditional sports and the world of e-sports."

The league will get under way later this year, with its initial matches held at a studio in Southern California.

But the intention is for later games to be played locally to help teams attract supporters.

It is not yet clear where Cloud9 will host its home matches.

"Buying into the Overwatch League for a franchise remains relatively high risk because of the costs involved and Overwatch's immaturity as an e-sports title," said Piers Harding-Rolls, from the IHS Technology consultancy.

"Traditional sports team owners have to be prepared to commit fully to an e-sports strategy to make this work, and it is clear that US-based teams are more willing to make the transition at this early stage.

"For European buyers, I think the risk increases somewhat due to the fragmented nature of the market in the region, the more diversified gaming tastes and the impact that can have on sponsorship rates, advertising and consumer interest."

Activision Blizzard also announced that it had licensed the rights to a second Los Angeles team.

Stan and Josh Kroenke - who have investments in the UK's Arsenal football club and the Los Angeles Rams American football team - bought the franchise.

Noah Winston, the chief executive of the Immortals e-sports organisation, owns the city's other Overwatch League team.

A brief introduction to Overwatch

Image source, Activision Blizzard

The first-person shooter features about two dozen characters who engage in team-based battles set across a near-future Earth.

Each character has a distinct personality - including a genetically engineered scientist ape, a cowboy-styled bounty hunter and a nerdy-looking climatologist - and unique abilities.

The heroes divide into four broad categories:

  • offence - fast-moving characters that can inflict a lot of damage quickly
  • defence - warriors best suited to guarding key parts of the battlefield and repelling attacks
  • tank - fighters that can sustain a lot of damage and are therefore well-suited to leading attacks
  • support - champions that help other players heal and access their most powerful attack modes more quickly than normal

Squads of six characters are pitched against each other in a range of challenges, including protecting/capturing a location; defending/destroying a vehicle as it is driven across a zone; and being first to wipe out the enemy team.

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