On Saturday, millions turned on their TVs and tuned to ABC expecting to see regular news or sports programming. What they got, however, was far from it; ABC was hosting a live broadcast of The Overwatch League, a competitive esports league based around Blizzard’s popular title Overwatch. In the video game teams of six work together to complete objectives.
The contests are complete with live commentators, analysts, and arenas full of fans. ABC’s broadcast marked the first time in history that any esport had been broadcast on a channel that could be accessed with any basic television package.
On Monday, esports took the next major step toward becoming fully mainstream. Comcast Spectacor announced that it plans to create the nation’s first arena designed specifically for hosting video game competitions. Comcast plans to construct the building right in Philly across Xfinity Live! and plans to open it in 2021. They’re investing a whopping 50 million dollars into the project.
Comcast Spectacor, a subsidiary of Comcast, is a sports and entertainment company, which owns both the Philadelphia Flyers as well as the Overwatch League team the Philadelphia Fusion, which they purchased in 2017 for a rumored 20 million dollars.
The driving force behind Spectacor’s dive into the esports scene is Tucker Roberts, president of Spectacor gaming and son of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. The decision to build the arena comes after Nate Nanzer, commissioner for the Overwatch (video game) League, announced earlier this year that in 2020 all Overwatch teams would relocate to their home city and travel to play home and away games.
So what’s with the sudden rise of esports? And why has the Overwatch League, in particular, become so popular? Part of the answer lies with the fact that traditional stigmas surrounding gaming, specifically competitive gaming, are declining. People are beginning to accept the fact that gaming is not just “you in your basement” as Phil Weinberg, a member of the general counsel at Comcast Spectacor put it.
Given that over 40 million gamers play overwatch, it’s no mystery as to why the Overwatch League has seen a recent popularity spike. The Overwatch League also has a distinct feature that makes it stand out among the already crowded esports scene. Each team is based on a specific city from around the world and is complete with an entire line of merchandise sporting the team’s logo–– merchandise that is available for fans around the globe. In short, the Overwatch League is gaining popularity because those at its head decided to run an esports league exactly like a regular sports league.
The professional gamers are beginning to get a glimpse at the life of a traditional athlete too–– many of the players live in housing provided by the teams and receive numerous benefits such as well as health care, private chefs, and rumored six-figure salaries. The Overwatch League has also poured time into ensuring matches are easy to understand to an average viewer.
It’s exciting to see the esports revolution happening right here in Philly. In the 2018 Inaugural season, the Philadelphia Fusion team came in second in the international competition, falling to the London Spitfire in the grand finals. In 2019, the Overwatch League expanded to 20 teams, with eight new teams from Vancouver, Toronto, Washington DC, Atlanta, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Paris.
Make no mistake. Esports are still in their infancy, but they’re continuing to grow and are quickly becoming a worldwide phenomenon. With Comcast’s announcement of the Philly Fusion arena, the popularity of the esports is only set to increase.