Recent LCS drama between team owners and Riot’s Marc Merrill raises related questions for the future of Overwatch.
Overwatch tournament owners have been reaping the benefits of open broadcasting rights so far. Can we expect this capitalistic approach in the future, or is Blizzard likely to close the market for company profit, the same way that Riot do?
Big tournaments like Faceit’s Overwatch Open and the Atlantic Showdown have already associated themselves with Blizzard. Furthermore, Blizzard have also announced their first tournament: the Overwatch World Cup. We know from this that Blizzard at least has a minimal amount of awareness of the major events that make use of their title.
So, is Blizzard’s cooperation a sign of a free market in the future, or are they priming their presence in the esports scene now just to corner it when the time is right?
What do I mean with an open or closed esport?
That anyone could host an esports tournament and broadcast the game with the creator’s consent is, in my eyes, an open esports market. Contrarily, an esports market that falls under owner control in such a way that third parties can’t make their own game content without being at the whim of the game company, is closed.
The way I see it, in a closed game, owners can stop anyone from Broadcasting their title. They own the broadcasting rights, and it’s up to them to permit third parties to broadcast their product.
Blizzard’s historical involvement
Starcraft BroodWar and Warcraft 3 had remarkably independent esports scenes. The same can be said of Starcraft 2. Tournament structures were pioneered by third parties who eventually banded together to form something resembling an infrastructure.
Heroes of the Storm was backed by a different approach altogether. Blizzard prompted action into the scene with “Heroes of the Dorm” which is nowadays also remembered for sparking collegiate esports competitions across various titles. The event was directly funded by Blizzard for the purpose of promoting the game. Although Heroes of the Storm never became a closed game the way I describe above, it did demonstrate Blizzard’s eagerness to step into the scene.
Why would Blizzard want to end the open Overwatch scene?
To be frank, it could make them a lot of money under the right conditions.
Closing the market would allow Blizzard to reap practically all broadcasting revenue associated with the game. Look at League of Legends. All relevant LoL games are broadcast through Riot owned broadcasting channels (besides Korea and other exceptions). As a result, they gain a higher percentage of all existing broadcasting revenue from their title than any other game owner with theirs.
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Why should Blizzard not do that?
A closed esport can’t possibly experience the maximum amount of exposure that can be had. If the market isn’t penetrable for third parties, fewer tournaments and streamed games take place. As a result, closing the market reduces the overall exposure of the game.
And as Overwatch costs 40-60$ per player, sacrificing player exposure for broadcasting revenue would lose them more money than they would gain.
So what will Blizzard do?
I obviously can’t know (in the strict sense of the word) the answer to this question. However, I think that considering the points above, Blizzard will most likely keep a respectful distance to the esports scene when it comes to the limitations that they set for other content creators.
Blizzard has shown us that they only interfere when needed, and Overwatch is doing just fine. So Blizzard can maximize revenue by leaving the market open, and so, they most likely will.