With the third season of the Overwatch League underway, professional players from the scene’s global franchises are gearing up for what could be the most intense professional season in the history of competitive gaming.
For the first time in the young history of the esports industry, teams will be expected to travel across the globe regularly to compete in various cities over the course of a grueling 28-week schedule.
In many traditional cases, esports leagues will play all of their games in one static location while only travelling for major events. The LCS, for example, is the premier sanctioned North American league for League of Legends. All teams in that particular league play all of their games in front of a neutral crowd in Los Angeles each week. And while this is the standard for many professional esports leagues, the Overwatch League broke that norm last weekend in Midtown Manhattan, as the historic Hammerstein Ballroom played host to the New York Excelsior’s first true home game.
“It’s been a while but I feel like we’re home,” said Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, captain of the Excelsior. “I definitely feel like we have a home field advantage here. We feel more ready and excited to play the game.”
Last season, Blizzard tested several “homestand weekends” in cities like Dallas, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. This year, however, the Overwatch League is expanding the number of its localized events from 3 to 51.
And while the idea of having teams play all of their games in a traditional home and away setting might seem ambitious, unprecedented, and ultimately risky for an esport, there’s definitely benefits to adopting a model that reflects one of traditional ball-and-stick sports. “Local revenue opportunities are a key part of the model we’ve looked to build with our franchises,” said Jon Spector, Executive VP of the Overwatch League. “Teams have the ability, unlike in a lot of other esports, to bring a couple thousand fans into a venue, sell tickets, and create VIP experiences. All of these types of activation methods are not possible without our local event model”.
However, while the business side of the league will definitely prosper under the newly implemented localization model, players from teams around the league expressed their concerns regarding the heavy amount of travel that they’ll be facing throughout the course of the season. “As we travel to other cities and countries [this season], we need to maintain our health and individual conditions,” said New York’s former league MVP Sung-hyeon “Jjonak” Bang after his team’s season-opening win last Saturday. “Other than practice, we feel like we need to maintain our physical health, as well”.
Jjonak’s Excelsior faces a schedule that includes contests in Washington, Houston, and Miami over the course of the next 3 weeks, while later season slates are highlighted with matches in Boston, Dallas, Paris, and Guangzhou, China. With an unprecedented amount of global travel facing Overwatch League pros, there’s obvious concern for the players’ physical health and levels of burnout.
So while there’s most definitely a level of excitement surrounding the league, those at the center of attention are treading carefully as they brace for major changes to not only their careers, but their lifestyles.
“I’m excited to travel the world,” said Excelsior frontman Dong-gyu “Mano” Kim. “But, I’m also worried about mine and even my teammates’ conditioning. That’s really what I’m worried about”.
Photo Credit: New York Excelsior, Robert Paul, Steadyprime, Blizzard Entertainment