Following a successful preseason, the inaugural Overwatch League season will get underway this Thursday, as Shanghai clashes with Los Angeles and London faces Florida at the Blizzard Arena.

If Major League Gaming CEO Pete Vlastelica is to be believed, this could be a huge moment in the history of esports.

The Blizzard employee has promised that the Overwatch League will provide action that professional gaming has yet to see, as the industry leaders attempt to make esports as much of a spectacle as traditional sports.

Vlastelica is the perfect example of how traditional sports have impacted Blizzard’s decision-making during the development of the Overwatch League.

Prior to joining MLG in 2016, Vlastelica served as the executive vice president and head of digital at Fox Sports. Having spent six years with one of the United States’ biggest sports broadcasting providers, he has plenty of experience and knowledge in producing programming that appeals to sports fans.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Vlastelica confirmed that he isn’t the only one with a background in traditional sports that Blizzard has recruited:

“We’ve got guys from a traditional sports background who are bringing what they’ve done in the broadcast television world to this format, which is very exciting,”

“The team that we’ve assembled to put on the show is the best team that’s ever been put together to work on an esports broadcast.”

What can Overwatch fans expect?

Traditional sports wouldn’t attract the viewership numbers that they do if it wasn’t for the storylines that make them interesting. If sport is the engine, the transfer sagas, player fallouts and potential takeovers are the fuel that keeps it going.

The Overwatch League already has its own content production team. They will be tasked with creating content around the clock during the duration of the season. In fact, they’re already hard at work crafting content that will help to develop similar storylines over the course of the season. Much of this content will focused on the players, as they look to create the sports stars of the future.

“They’ll be building content around the players, telling stories, and creating stars. That’s ultimately one of the things that’s going to drive the success of the league,” Vlastelica said.

The way that the Overwatch League is run should help to develop and drive these storylines.

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Most esports leagues and competitions current leave it up to individual organisations to decide how, when and what their players are paid. For most professionals, paydays only come when they win a tournament. However, Blizzard has opted for a different approach.

In order to form a team, organisations had to agree to pay each of their professionals an annual wage of at least $50,000, on top of any potential earnings that they make from their final position in the competition.

With a transfer window set to run between the end of stage one and start of stage three, it appears that Blizzard are attempting to create a something similar to Europe’s football leagues. Teams will undoubtedly use higher wages to lure the best players to their teams. This, the company hopes, will in turn generate plenty of headlines and publicity for the Overwatch League.

Coverting esports fans into club fans

For the most part, you will find Barcelona fans in Barcelona and Manchester United fans in Manchester.

Most traditional sports organisations have used location-driven loyalty to garner support for their clubs. Studies have found that communal ties help to strength our attachment to a particular team and keep us coming back for more.

However, location isn’t really a thing on the internet. As a result, esports has had a tough time trying to emulate the level of fan loyalty that drives traditional sports. Those that enjoy esports don’t tend to support a particular team in quite the same way, as there is nothing that makes that specific team theirs.

However, the Overwatch League hopes to change this. Rather than allowing any organisation to sign up, as most current esports tournaments do, teams competing in the Overwatch League have to be tied to a particular city. For example, London has the London Spitfire and Houston has the Houston Outlaws.

They hope that fans will be inclined to support the team attached to their local area, which will make the league more exciting to follow.  All games will be held at the Blizzard Arena during the first season. However, it is expected that teams will eventually begin competing in their home cities.

Unsurprisingly, money plays a big role. If Overwatch League fans feel connected to a particular organisation, they are more likely to purchase merchandise displaying their team’s branding. Having released ranges of hats, jerseys, t-shirts and accessories for each of the competing teams, Blizzard seem certain that their plan will pay off.

All the details as the Overwatch League gets underway

Ahead of Thursday, 11 January’s first round of fixtures, here is everything that you need to know about the Overwatch League:

Overwatch League teams

A total of 12 teams will compete in the inaugural Overwatch League season.  Blizzard have split these teams into two divisions. These are:

Overwatch League Atlantic Division
  • Boston Uprising – Boston, Massachusetts, United States
  • Florida Mayhem – Florida, United States
  • Houston Outlaws – Houston, Texas, United States
  • London Spitfire – London, England
  • New York Excelsior – New York City, New York, United States
  • Philadelphia Fusion – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Overwatch League Pacific Division
  • Dallas Fuel – Dallas, Texas, United States
  • Los Angeles Gladiators – Los Angeles, California, United States
  • Los Angeles Valiant – Los Angeles, California, United States
  • San Francisco Shock – San Francisco, California, United States
  • Seoul Dynasty – Seoul, South Korea
  • Shanghai Dragons – Shanghai, China

Overwatch League schedule

The Overwatch League will get underway on Thursday, 11 January. Stage one will run for six weeks until Sunday, 11 February. At the end of the stage, the four best placed teams will compete in a mini-playoff tournament for a $125,000 prize pool.

Three more stages will then follow. Stage two will be played between 22 February and 25 March. Stage three will take place from 5 April to 6 May and stage four from 17 May to 17 June.

The best performing teams will then qualify for the post-season based on their performances during the regular season. Blizzard has yet to announce dates for this stage of the tournament.

How to watch the Overwatch League

Fans will be able to follow every game via Blizzard’s Major League Gaming platform. However, it is unlikely that Blizzard will be showing the games on popular streaming platform Twitch.

Overwatch Leaague tickets

Alternatively, each game will be played live at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles. The supply will be limited, due to the arena’s limited capacity of just 450. Be quick if you have a particular match in mind, as they will likely sell out regularly.

Tickets can be purchased via ticketing website Universe at a cost of $20.

When are the Overwatch League skins coming out?

As well as real life merchandise, Blizzard will also release a number of in-game items. This will provide fans with another way to show support for their favourite team. Each organisation will have their own in-game skin. Players can purchase skins through the in-game menu.

Blizzard teased fans by adding the option early. However, you’re currently unable to complete the purchase. Blizzard will likely enable purchases on Thursday once the league is underway.