LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

Blizzard's new eSports league gains instant traction in Houston

Blizzard's Overwatch eSports league is off to a fast start. Courtesy photo

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Blizzard’s highly anticipated Overwatch League (OWL) and the Houston Outlaws were among its twelve original teams for the inaugural season. Despite a strong effort, the Outlaws dropped their first two matches, losing 3-2 to the Philadelphia Fusion and 3-1 to the New York Excelsior.

The new eSports league is seen as an ambitious independently produced project by the video game developer, Blizzard Entertainment, creator of the critically acclaimed, fast-paced, team-based, first-person shooter Overwatch. Unlike other shooters in the genre, Overwatch separates itself by blending elements of role-playing games with character-specific abilities and the necessity to balance said abilities during team composition.

Each team is comprised of six players and match modes used in league play include escort (one team escorts a payload while the other attempts to prevent it from advancing), assault (one team attacks a point and the other defends), capture (a king of the hill type mode), and a hybrid mode consisting of both capture and escort elements. There are four rounds to each match, consisting of one round of each mode. The team that wins the most rounds wins the match. In the event of a tie, a randomly selected tie-breaking round is played.

Houston’s first match on Thursday sent the league into its first tie-breaker round, after coming back from down two matches to one to draw even. Both teams volleyed wins back and forth, but Philadelphia would take the overtime win after sweeping the Outlaws when a control map--Houston’s apparently weakest game mode--was selected.

In their second ever contest, the Outlaws dropped to 0-2 behind a far less competitive 3-1 defeat to the New York Excelsior. Houston was able to claim the first round, an escort mode, but dropped the final three rounds in succession.

Blizzard announced at the conclusion of the first week that its season premiere online only viewership peaked at over 425,000. Online video game streaming service Twitch is reported to have spent over $90 million dollars for streaming rights to the league, which leaves OWL free to eventually pursue possible television broadcasting contracts in the future.

Locally, the official watch party on Thursday was located at The Cannon, a co-working space located just west of beltway 8 on I-10. Original predictions of 50-100 spectators were shattered when over 600 fans arrived Thursday evening, according to KTRK Channel 13.

The season itself consists of four five-week stages, with cash bonuses going to winning teams of each stage. The ensuing playoffs consist of the winners of each of the two current divisions or the top 6 teams overall. The winning team claims a $3.5 million dollar payout.

The new eSports league is a departure from traditional leagues in that its franchises are recognized geographically--much like a traditional sports league--and not by traditional team or clan names. This form of geographical franchising helped lure well-funded owners such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who now owns the Boston Uprising Overwatch team. Rosters are not restricted to any territory, however, which allows teams like the London Spitfire to field a team of mostly professional Korean players.

The league has also established precedent in terms of player stability throughout the season. Blizzard has mandated a base salary of $50,000 for all team members with a minimum one year stipulated in the contract. Owners are also required to furnish healthcare insurance, options for retirement savings plans, and furnish housing during the Overwatch season, which spans over 20 weeks.

For the first season, all matches will be played in a Los Angeles-based studio, however plans are in place for each of the franchises--including the internationally-based London, Seoul, and Shanghai teams--to establish their own “home field” of sorts.

While the Houston Outlaws may not have began their season with a win, the team has plenty of time to right the ship in the coming weeks. Regardless of the team’s performance, the Outlaws have already captured the attention of Houston’s gaming community, which may be the most important win of the weekend.

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Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio, Sports. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio shows www.nerdthugradio.com!

All Elite hosted its first pay per view since launching into its weekly format, now running the old school WWE/WCW format that did work for so so long. The method that WWE pumped up and turned into the nationally traded financial juggernaut it is now, it's got a good history. The event went very well, AEW's booking continues to be bold and exciting, with their stars dropping matches and elevating second tier guys to the top of the ladder. I am honestly excited by how AEW has handled itself and its stars, I wonder how long this sort of good will within the company will continue but so far it looks like they are making all the right moves and putting real pressure on WWE.

In contrast to Full Gear from AEW coming off without a hitch, a little over two weeks ago WWE sent the rosters of both Raw and Smackdown to Saudi Arabia in an effort to keep making lots of money. The matches went off without a hitch and the bookings weren't too bad but it was a surprise to see Seth Rollins lose the title and the Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez match was very dissatisfying making the Kofi Kingston title drop even more questionable. To make matters worse, there were plane issues and suddenly only certain guys were able to get back and most of Smackdown's roster wasn't in the country for Friday night Smackdown. After the brand split and the networks making their cases that there wouldn't be crossover of roster between Raw and Smackdown this further complicated the travel issues and suddenly you get the NXT invading Smackdown. Clever bit of writing and of course Triple H makes great television, but the invasion was a totally unnecessary maneuver created by WWE's poor decision to stay in the Saudi Arabia game.

Ultimately perhaps the biggest piece of news this week was the announcement of the return of CM Punk, kind of. He's now signed on to WWE Backstage through Fox, not with WWE and perhaps might even be one of the best things to come out of this whole Fox-WWE relationship. With the ratings not being what everyone expected over at Fox, WWE hasn't had the kind of control they're used to and the rumor mill is running rampant that WWE is probably unhappy with the hire considering the long cold relationship between McMahon and CM Punk. Overall WWE hasn't been the major maneuver FOX probably thought it would be and coupled with AEW's success on TNT, it has to lead other networks to realize that while live events are good, it matters what you buy.

Feel free to check out my brand-new comic book Another Day at the Office email me for details or buy a shirt from Side Hustle Ts where some proceeds help people struggling with cancer or listen to Nerd Thug Radio. Thoughts, complaints, events and comments can be sent to corydlg@gmail.com.

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