News came out across esports media yesterday that Kroenke Sports and Entertainment have become the next sports ownership group to make the jump into the digital realm.
KSE will pick up a Los Angeles-based team for Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch League. Overwatch League was announced months ago at last November’s Blizzcon and has been “coming soon” ever since, though the league has finally started taking shape recently and Blizzard expects play to get underway before the end of the year, according to The Score. This will mean recruiting and signing six top-level Overwatch players, probably a coach and/or subs. KSE will also provide both housing and a practice facility, which most likely would follow the esports tradition of a team house environment where everyone lives and plays.
The Kroenkes are far from the first to expand from physical sports teams to electronic ones. Just within Overwatch League will be teams owned by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots; Immortals, who are sponsored in part by the Memphis Grizzlies; and Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets. The owner of NRG esports co-owns the Sacramento Kings and numerous European football teams also sponsor players in the pro gaming realm. The field is expanding and KSE are jumping on the boat (Fortune).
Overwatch League has been met with a fair amount of skepticism around the rumored size of the ownership buy-in (I have seen $20 million per franchise all around, for example here according to ESPN Sauces), $50k minimum player salary and benefits, the viability of Overwatch as an esport, and the effect of OWL on the pro Overwatch scene. Most teams are simply not competing right now because of a lack of events; everything is on hold waiting for a premiere league still without a set start date.
OWL will also be the first esports league to tie itself down geographically, which is an interesting decision for what’s by definition an international, scattered profession. KSE’s team will be based in Los Angeles; other teams have tied themselves to Boston, New York, Seoul, and London. (Immortals will be a second LA-based team. They are not affiliated with KSE’s team.)
But as a traditional ownership group looking to make the leap into esports as it explodes in popularity, Overwatch League may be the best bet for KSE right now. The game is looking for franchises, the format should bring stability (esports team famously shuffle rosters and outright disband shockingly quickly), and Overwatch is an extremely popular game with buy-in from other names in traditional sports and several pros with big streaming audiences. Whether this will be a good move for KSE will ultimately be up to how well Blizzard handles OWL.
Overwatch is a competitive first-person shooter from Blizzard Entertainment, makers of other popular titles like Heroes of the Storm and World of Warcraft, and owners of Call of Duty since merging with Activision. It features two teams of six unique heroes doing battle in fast-paced clashes for control of objectives. Information on the league structure from Blizzard.