Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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    How the world’s most ambitious esports league shrank to nothing: An oral history of the Overwatch League

    The Overwatch League is officially done with, but the story of the “Overwatch” community isn’t over yet. With a successor on the horizon in the form of ESL/FACEIT Group’s Overwatch Champions Series, some industry observers are looking back at the OWL to figure out exactly how things went wrong.

    When Activision Blizzard initially announced the Overwatch League in 2016, esports fans and investors alike believed the league would help usher the esports industry into an era of unfettered growth. Billionaires such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft bit the bullet on the league’s $20 million franchise fees, making the OWL the most valuable esports league in the world — at least before teams accepted a $6 million buyout to exit the league in late 2023.

    Eight years later, the esports industry hasn’t evolved far beyond where it was back in those early days of excitement and hype. Having thus far failed to crack the nut of broadcast rights, esports leagues and teams remain reliant on brand sponsorship revenues to stay afloat, but brands aren’t spending as much on esports as they used to, facing diminishing returns on investment and broader economic headwinds. When the Overwatch League folded in November, it came as a surprise to few.

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