The Overwatch League is an esports league created and run by Blizzard Entertainment that will showcase Overwatch, its popular first-person shooter. The inaugural season will feature 12 teams, each of which paid $20 million for a franchise spot. Each team will represent a city with all teams playing the first season in Los Angeles. Future seasons will see home and away games for which teams will travel to compete against one another in the cities they represent, similar to a traditional sport.
Minimum player salaries are $50,000 with a one-year minimum and a second-year option, and teams are required to provide players with housing, health insurance, retirement options and more.
The preseason starts on Dec. 6 and runs until Dec. 9. The regular season launches Jan. 10, 2018, and runs until July. The total prize pool is $3.5 million, with the Season 1 champion taking home $1 million.
Structure and format
12 teams, two divisions of six: Atlantic and Pacific
Matches take place Wednesday through Saturday
Four stages in the regular season; each stage is five weeks long
Each match will be four-map sets
• At the end of each stage will be a title match between the top three teams, regardless of division, for a bonus of $125,000
The No. 1 team from each division advances to the playoffs in July
The top four remaining teams between both divisions also advance to the playoffs, creating a six-team playoff bracket
All regular-season matches will take place at the Blizzard Arena Los Angeles in Burbank, California.
Quick fact: This is the first group to buy in to the OWL
Robert Kraft, his son Jonathan, and the Kraft Group -- collectively the ownership of the New England Patriots and Revolution -- were the first buyers in the Overwatch League. Robert and Jonathan attended BlizzCon in November 2016 and watched the first Overwatch World Cup alongside Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who led the charge in the recruitment of the league. The Krafts were the start of a snowball to help recruit other prospective buyers, sources told ESPN. The Kraft Group acquired the Boston spot in the league, continuing to add to its New England portfolio of sports.
Quick fact: Misfits is partnered with the Miami Heat
Founded in early 2016 by Ben Spoont and his father-in-law, Syfy channel co-founder Mitchell Rubenstein, Misfits has evolved into a well-known esports organization over the last two years. Its success in League of Legends, Overwatch and other esports titles led it to an investment and partnership with the Miami Heat in January 2017. This set the groundwork for the geolocation push with a Miami-Orlando spot in the Overwatch League.
Quick fact: A co-owner of the Texas Rangers invested in OpTic
Similar to Envy, Call of Duty powerhouse OpTic Gaming bought into the league following an investment from an energy magnate, Neil Leibman, who is a co-owner of the Texas Rangers. The team relocated to Dallas and its Overwatch team will be based in Houston when the league geolocates into multiple regions rather than its current Los Angeles-based games. The Houston slot also covers rights to Austin and San Antonio, Texas.
Quick fact: A Golden State Warriors co-owner and a Reddit co-founder invested in Cloud9 in 2017
The only European slot in the initial set of buyers was purchased by the Los Angeles-based organization Cloud9. That team is one of the longest-tenured in modern esports, having made its name in League of Legends in 2013 and expanding rapidly in other titles since. The team acquired investment in its seed round in 2017, with backers like Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana, Golden State Warriors co-owner Chamath Palihapitiya and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. The London slot expands into markets across the majority of England, something Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne says he's excited about when looking at increasing his international foothold. Recently, C9 received even more funding from the WWE, Hunter Pence, the Beverly Hills Sports Council and more.
Quick fact: Sterling.VC was the second group to buy into the OWL
Sports, media and real estate venture capitalist fund Sterling.VC was the second buyer in the league. Sterling.VC is a sister company of the New York Mets, headed by Jeff Wilpon -- the son of Mets owner Fred Wilpon -- which combines the fortune of the Wilpon family and other investors to invest in startups. It has a history in tech in particular, such as a $20 million investment in airport security company CLEAR in 2010. The company obtained the New York spot for the league and later acquired LW Blue, one of South Korea's best Overwatch teams, as its starting lineup.
Quick fact: Spectacor owns the Philadelphia Flyers
The sports arm of American telecommunications was the 11th buyer in the league. Blizzard had previously pursued the Philadelphia 76ers due to its links in esports, but ultimately got buy-in from Spectacor, the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, Wells Fargo Arena and several other venues in the U.S. The company was initially founded by Ed Snider, the owner of the Flyers, in 1974, and was later acquired by Comcast in 1996. The league is the first esports venture for Spectacor.
Quick fact: Envy received a $35 million investment from Hersh Family Investments
Team Envy -- a long-tenured esports team with its roots in Call of Duty -- acquired the Dallas slot in the league after receiving $35 million in investment from Hersh Family Investments. Envy has housed one of the best Overwatch teams in the world since the game launched in beta in 2015 and has continued to be a dominant force throughout the game's competitive history. The organization relocated from its home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Dallas as a result of the investment.
Quick fact: Kroenke Sports & Entertainment owns the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Nuggets
Los Angeles is the only market to have two teams in the same region so far. Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Nuggets, and is a majority owner in Arsenal F.C., was announced to be the ninth buyer in the league, obtaining the second slot in the Southern California area. The group is owned by former real estate businessman Stan Kroenke, his wife and Wal-Mart fortune heir Ann Walton Kroenke and their son, Josh Kroenke. Stan and Josh attended BlizzCon alongside the Krafts, Etienne and Bobby Kotick and witnessed the initial announcement of the league in November 2016.
Quick fact: Invested in by the Memphis Grizzlies co-owner and Lionsgate Films
Immortals is a team that has been in esports since 2015 and has continually acquired investment from well-known parties in media, tech and sports. The organization has investment from Memphis Grizzlies co-owner Stephen Kaplan, Lionsgate Films and AEG, an entertainment company that owns a number of venues -- including the Staples Center, Microsoft Theater and LA Live -- in Southern California. The team holds footholds in other games, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Smash for Wii U, and was one of the first parties interested in the Overwatch League. It acquired the first Los Angeles slot, as the fifth overall buyer in the league.
Quick fact: Jennifer Lopez and Marshawn Lynch recently backed NRG, joining longtime investor Shaquille O'Neal
An endemic esports organization founded in 2015, NRG Esports is owned by some of the biggest names in technology and sports. The company has three common shareholders with the Sacramento Kings: former Apple executive Andy Miller, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal. Oh, and also baseball legends Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins, Jennifer Lopez, and running back Marshawn Lynch. The purchase of the San Francisco spot also includes rights to the surrounding Bay Area of Oakland and San Jose, as well as Sacramento.
Quick fact: Will house the current top roster in Overwatch, formerly of Lunatic-Hai
KSV Esports, short for Korean-Silicon Valley, is a conglomeration of four tech executives, three of whom launched the application development company Kabam in 2005. The group has roots in San Francisco and a history of successfully launching startups in the past decade. Led by Kevin Chou, the former CEO of Kabam, the group acquired the Seoul, South Korea, slot in the Overwatch League and later the roster from two-time Overwatch APEX champion Lunatic-Hai, historically the best roster in that region.
Quick fact: The Dragons colors, branding and logo were the first to be revealed
After pursuing a number of Chinese buyers, Blizzard Entertainment stood with what it knew. NetEase is one of the larger game development companies in China and has been a distributor for Blizzard for a number of years, relaunching World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone and Overwatch in the country. It obtained the Shanghai slot, as the only Chinese team in the initial set of buyers.