Is Franchising the Future of Professional Esports?
The biggest change in the esports industry this year was the introduction of franchising. Franchise models launched in both Overwatch and League of Legends, bringing both titles much closer to the league structure of traditional sports. Could these leading titles be the first to step into the future of professional esports?
Both League of Legends and Overwatch will continue to support esports tournaments on an amateur level outside the franchise, proving franchising is not the end of amateur esports. However, it draws a clear line of succession from amateur-level competition in the titles into the pros.
In League of Legends, the Challenger Series has come to an end, to be replaced with the Academy League where players climb up the ranks through teams affiliated with each of the LCS franchise brands.
In Overwatch esports, the path is still being cut. The game’s esports scene is still young compared to League of Legends, and it nearly stalled out while Blizzard took nearly 12 months to prepare for the launch of OWL. However, the publisher is launching an Overwatch Contenders to attract a portion of the disenfranchised players who didn’t make a spot on one of the OWL teams.
Franchising offers the opportunity for a league to launch with several hundred-million dollars – Overwatch League collected $20 million from each team owner. The money combined with the structure provides a higher level of stability to the leagues. According to Michael Rufail, owner of OWL team Dallas Fuel, it cements esports as a legitimate industry.