With the Twitch broadcast peaking at 425,000 concurrents, Day 1 of the inaugural season of Overwatch League furthered the notion that 2018 is going to be the true breakout year for esports and Overwatch League is going to be the new NFL.
For those who didn’t immediately click away following that bold claim, let me explain.
To the uninitiated, competitive gaming being compared to the popularity of a long-established national sports league sounds ludicrous. But then again, so does watching young men giving themselves permanent brain damage every Sunday.
Overwatch League (OWL) is the conglomeration of the game’s best players, team owners with deep pockets and a fan base eager to support their cities and countries.
Even well-known traditional sports moguls have gotten in on the Overwatch League phenomenon. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has a stake in the Boston Uprising and former Yankees all-star Alex Rodriguez is heavily involved with the San Francisco Shock.
These deals and sponsors make OWL sound like any other league, especially when you factor in the $90 million dollar broadcast exclusivity Twitch just slapped down for the next two seasons of OWL.
Overwatch League is going to succeed because it draws just enough parallels with traditional sports to gather a fanbase, while catering to the new generation of cord-cutters and those who would rather play video games than watch Alabama win another national championship.
Now, let me damper my rocketing expectations for a moment. OWL will be big, but by current esports standards. Regular season matches should peak at anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 concurrents on Twitch. I imagine the playoffs and championships could reach millions of people across multiple platforms. But we definitely won’t see NBA Finals, World Series or Super Bowl numbers for quite some time.
What I do see is OWL’s stability leading to TV networks, struggling with traditional sports viewership, fighting it out for broadcast rights to certain teams.
Roughly five years from now I see a league with ever-increasing player salaries, bigger sponsors and average regular season viewership in the millions. As the roster of teams and cities represented grows, audiences will find someone to cheer for, regardless of how deep their involvement in the game is.
While I’m currently enveloped in cheering for individual players like Mickie from Dallas Fuel and Shaz from the LA Gladiators, the moment a Baltimore team comes to fruition, I’ll be 1000% more invested than I already am.
The point is, Overwatch League is the beginning of something huge for sports, not just esports. It’s social and globally connected in a way no other emerging league has been. So get in on the action now, that way you can act like an elitist hipster in a decade when you recall games and players from the inaugural season of the esport that simply became a sport.