In 2020, the Overwatch League doesn’t just want to revolutionize the way it handles its schedule — it wants to change the way both teams and fans engage with esports.
In its third season, Overwatch League games will be hosted in the home cities of all 19 teams on a full schedule with home and away games, Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer announced at South by Southwest on Friday. That's a change from its current model of staging the majority of the league games in California.
“This isn’t, in my view, just an important step for Overwatch League, it’s an important step for esports,” Nanzer said in conversation with ESPN’s Mina Kimes. “The local Ford dealer has no reason to sponsor the Dallas Fuel yet, but when Dallas is playing multiple matches in Dallas, they totally will. That’s the exciting thing, to open more revenue opportunities for teams and take esports to the next level.”
It’s not just about revenue: Nanzer said he wants to mirror the community around major league sports teams, with individual teams choosing home stadiums and hosting "Overwatch" matches, but with the Overwatch League still controlling the broadcasts.
“One of the coolest things about traditional sports is tradition,” Nanzer said. “Even if you don’t care about football at all, in late August, early September, you know it’s football season. We want to build that same level of tradition over time. … The generation of people under the age of 35, they crave and want experiences. And watching online is an experience, but going to an event with 12,000 other people is a totally different level of experience.”
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Currently, all league matches are hosted at and broadcast from the Blizzard Arena at Burbank Studios in California. The Overwatch League has a total of 20 teams, including one in Houston and one in Dallas and nine outside of the United States.
Kimes asked how the league will handle the travel challenges that major league sports teams face with a home-and-away game schedule, including health and taking recovery time between games. Right now the league plays matches in five-week stages and then takes one week off in between, but that will have to change with next year’s schedule.
“One of the big concerns that we have is that if you’re based in Dallas but you need to go play an Asia swing, when you come back to Dallas, you need three or four days to sort of get back on the time zone and have your body readjust,” Nanzer said. “So we’re going to build (additional breaks) into the schedule, so that when teams come back from international travel they have extra time to recover from that.”
As for physical training, since the Overwatch League is charting new territory, there’s room for exploration.
“One of the exciting things about esports to me is that it’s still relatively recent, and I don’t think anyone has figured out what is the optimal way to train esports players,” Nanzer said. “When you think about it, it’s even bigger for esports players because they’re staring at a monitor. I think our teams are really being thoughtful about how we’re gonna set up training facilities.”
The league’s change was prompted by the organic fan experience. Even in the league’s inaugural season, Nanzer said, fans were hosting watch parties. In this year’s season, the league will begin hosting some games in teams’ home cities, including matches hosted by the Dallas Fuel in April.
When asked by a young fan whether the league would consider expansion to Austin so he can have a team to root for, Nanzer said only, “I would argue that you have two teams, and you get to choose.”