Blizzard’s ambitious Overwatch League keeps getting bigger. Today the developer announced that two new franchises will join the pro e-sports circuit, representing London and Los Angeles. The London franchise is the first announced team in Europe, and will be owned and operated by successful e-sports group Cloud9. The new LA team, meanwhile, will be helmed by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, a company that owns stakes in a number of pro sports teams, including Arsenal, the LA Rams, and the Denver Nuggets.
“These two owners in particular will hopefully clarify a little bit how we’re going about building this league,” explains Pete Vlastelica, president and CEO of Activision Blizzard subsidiary Major League Gaming. “Which is to say we’re pulling the best from the worlds of e-sports and traditional sports, so that these owners can learn from each other.”
The two new teams bring the league total up to nine; in July Blizzard announced the first batch of franchises based in New York, Boston, Miami, LA, San Francisco, Seoul, and Shanghai. Ownership groups include both established e-sports organizations and big names in traditional sports. Vlastelica says there will be more franchises announced before the league kicks off later this year.
The Overwatch League looks to differentiate itself from existing e-sports circuits by emulating the city-based structure of more traditional sports leagues. In addition to having franchises in specific locations, the league is also looking to offer a more professional environment for players, with guaranteed salaries, health insurance and retirement plans, and housing and practice facilities that need to conform to league-mandated guidelines.
One of the goals of the league is to become a global entity, and eventually expand to 28 different franchises. So it’s somewhat curious to see two teams in LA among the first nine announced. But Vlastelica says that it mostly comes down to the market itself, which is both large and home to an existing e-sports community.
The two LA teams also represent the two different types of owners in the league — the existing club is run by popular e-sports organization The Immortals — which Vlastelica believes could lead to a natural rivalry. “I think they’re going to approach building a fanbase in unique ways, and I think there will be an opportunity, as a fan, to align with a team that speaks to you,” he says. “And I think a rivalry is a natural outcome of that.”
The Overwatch League will be kicking off later this year. The window for signing players started on August 1st and will run until the end of October, but there’s no word yet on when the first matches will begin.