The first two franchises, the Boston Uprising and the New York Excelsior, were bought by organizations connected to Robert K. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and Jeff Wilpon, chief operating officer of the New York Mets and the son of the team’s principal owner. Executives with the Los Angeles Rams, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Sacramento Kings soon joined the ownership ranks. E-sports stalwarts joined, too: Cloud9 owns the London Spitfire, which won the first championship.
Mr. Kraft’s son Jonathan, president of the Kraft Group, said his organization had been interested in e-sports, but was uncomfortable acquiring what amounted only to contracts with individual players, rather than a permanent franchise.
It was swayed by the pitch for the Overwatch League, which like a professional sports league tracks detailed statistics on teams and players, has a regular broadcast schedule, a postseason, and player transactions. (This off-season, its runner-up for most valuable player was traded to another team.)
“It’s not the wild, wild West anymore,” Jonathan Kraft said of the Overwatch League. “There’s a structure. There’s substance.”
Overwatch fans might have an easy time coalescing around geographic allegiances, but they’ll have a hard time seeing their team in person. All of the teams, including New York, Boston and Philadelphia — not to mention Shanghai and Seoul — actually play just outside Los Angeles.
Every regular-season match this year was played in a 450-seat e-sports arena in Burbank, Calif. That allows Blizzard to focus on its online broadcast while team owners can develop reliable technological infrastructure, said the league’s commissioner, Nate Nanzer. Teams could move to local arenas in the league’s third season, in 2020.