'Overwatch' E-Sports League Boasts Team Owners From NFL, MLB, NBA

Overwatch_Gameplay - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots NFL team, is also behind a Boston team video game league.

E-sports, where spectators pay to watch experts play video games, is taking it up a notch with a new league boasting owners from the world of far more established sports.

Activision Blizzard announced Wednesday that its league built around its Overwatch game will include a team in Boston owned by Robert Kraft, who also owns the New England Patriots NFL team.

“We have been exploring the e-sports market for a number of years and have been waiting for the right opportunity to enter,” said Kraft.

The Overwatch League, created in November, will consist of teams representing cities worldwide. The other six owners, and the teams they’ll represent, announced Wednesday are:

A New York team owned by Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets, the MLB team majority owned by his father, Fred.

A Los Angeles team owned by Noah Winston, CEO of Immortals, a professional video game organization owned by Peter Levin of Lionsgate Interactive Ventures, Steve Kaplan of Oaktree Capital and Machinima chairman Allen DeBevoise.

A team representing Florida’s Miami-Orlando region owned by Ben Spoont, CEO of Misfits Gaming, a pro video game organization partially owned by the Miami Heat NBA team.

A team in San Francisco owned by Andy Miller, co-owner of the Sacramento Kings NBA team and founder of NRG Esports, a video game organization partially owned by the NBA’s Shaquille O’Neal and MLB’s Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins.

A team in Shanghai owned by NetEase, a Chinese Internet and gaming company.

A team in Seoul, owned by Kevin Chou, co-founder of Kabam, creator of games like Marvel: Contest of Champions.

“This local franchise model will bring more fans, just like there wouldn’t be as many baseball fans in L.A. if it weren’t for the Dodgers,” said Pete Vlastelica, CEO of Major League Gaming, the e-sports division at Activision Blizzard. “This is a complete first for e-sports.”

Overwatch is a multiplayer shooting game released 14 months ago and Activision Blizzard, run by CEO Bobby Kotick, says it grew to 30 million players quicker than any other game in the company’s history. Kotick also said that players in the Overwatch League will be paid a minimum salary with benefits and team owners are expected to compensate them for community events.

E-Sports in general is also growing quickly, with worldwide revenue expected at $696 million this year and growing to $1.5 billion by 2020, according to Newzoo. The research firm also says that 285 million people globally watched e-sports last year.

For the Overwatch League, teams of six will compete against each other at a venue in Los Angeles to be named later, though eventually each city will sport its own arena. Several details are yet to be worked out, such as team names, when the season will begin (Activision Blizzard says by year’s end) and how many additional teams will be added to the league.

“They’ll be on a stage in front of screaming fans like in any other sport,” said Vlastelica. “It’s similar to the appeal of watching any competitive activity at the highest level. Overwatch is a thrilling, positive, fast-paced game set in a beautiful, optimistic world with compelling characters.”

Activision Blizzard and team owners will split revenue generated by the league, while each team is also free to generate sales for themselves on a local level. Activision Blizzard will stream events over the Internet and may also negotiate traditional TV rights.

Activision Blizzard would not say how much a team franchise costs.