Video gaming adopts intercity rivalry to break into major league sport – Financial Times

Torbjörn, Mercy, Tracer and Reinhardt (l-r) are playable characters in Overwatch Uprising

The backers of esports are turning to the model of intercity rivalries, made successful by traditional games such as baseball and football, to try to propel competitive video gaming into a lucrative mass-market sport. 

The parent companies behind the New England Patriots NFL team and baseball’s New York Mets were among those picking up franchises in the past week, in the first serious attempt to create a professional league for esports that encourages real-world spectators in their team’s local areas.

In an attempt to expand its appeal beyond the millions watching globally on sites such as Amazon’s Twitch, Activision Blizzard, the largest US video games publisher, is selling teams for its Overwatch League to owners in New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai and beyond, demanding multimillion-dollar commitments to invest in local events, promotions and merchandising in each individual city.

“It is incredibly important to use that localised model to tap into a fan base of esports that doesn’t exist yet,” says Noah Whinston, chief executive of the esports team Immortals, which bought up rights to Overwatch’s Los Angeles franchise. “Having live event experiences and local teams creates a level of engagement and passion that you just can’t access as well through a computer screen.” 

The concept is hooking in investors from traditional sports as well as videogaming veterans. Activision Blizzard announced this week that the first Overwatch League franchise owners included Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, the Boston-based American football team, and Jeff Wilpon, chief operating officer of the New York Mets baseball team. 

Having live event experiences and local teams creates a level of engagement and passion that you just can’t access as well through a computer screen. 

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