If the Overwatch League wants to seriously expand past its current audience of gamers and esports fans, it needs to develop its own fantasy app and further develop players’ identities.
Fantasy Games are Catalysts
Let me start by saying that I am, at best, a casual fan of the NFL. However, I am an avid fantasy football player. Every year, several friends and I spend weeks getting to know NFL players and their situations with the hopes of drafting the best team possible. Fantasy football is the catalyst that initially gets me involved with a league and sport that I otherwise would not pay any attention to. Fantasy also keeps me interested week-to-week as I make free agency moves, check for good matchups, and make trades with other players in the league.
For esports fans and OWL fans, in particular, no such possibility currently exists (outside of smaller sites like Winston’s Lab). This not only keeps current fans from a really fun and exciting way of keeping up with the league, it also limits the reach of the league. Just like fantasy football is the link that has made me a fan of the NFL, so too can fantasy OWL bring in new kinds of fans and keep them interested.
If anyone has the resources available to create a savvy and accessible OWL fantasy app, it’s Blizzard. Fantasy OWL could be integrated with the current Overwatch League app or through an additional app. However this takes form, it is important that Blizzard be the ones in charge of the app in order to ensure enough time and energy is being put into the service. If new fans are going to begin playing fantasy OWL, it needs to run and look good.
Once the app itself is up and running, it would need to be promoted on platforms in and outside of OWL. Getting current fans to download the app through Twitch incentives or Loot Boxes would be simple and likely be very successful. Disney/ESPN, Facebook, Twitter, and other websites could run more ads in order to get the word out to those who don’t currently follow the league.
Advertising, however, needs to rally behind the players and their stories rather than the game itself to best hook new viewers. One example that supports this is the NBA. This professional league, perhaps better than any other, promotes its stars and gathers attention from them. Whether you are a fan or not, you know who LeBron James is. You can likely recognize his face, even if you have no idea what team he plays for. The star is what grabs us and connects us to a league or sport; not the sport itself.
This is an area that OWL can improve upon. Those of us who are fans can recognize some of the star players, but I would imagine that non-gamers would struggle to do the same. The league needs to promote players like JAKE, Geguri, JJoNak, Seagull, and SPACE who can handle being in the public eye and do well to promote the league. If these sorts of players are more active with TV interviews and get to the point where they are recognizable, they can create a link that gets people interested in OWL. New viewers will rally around a real person more quickly than they will rally around Tracer or Widowmaker highlights.
With proper planning and balancing, the details on the scoring metrics, roster size, and other nuances would be worked out. However Blizzard decided to operate the scoring, they would need to ensure that the best players in the league would be the most desirable in a draft. The promotion and presentation of the app, more than the app itself, is what will be most important for Blizzard to devote a lot of thought to during development.
As the league continues to grow in value and expand to a potentially worldwide market, a fantasy app is likely to emerge. If the league is smart, it will continue developing player identities and use them to promote the league and the fantasy app.
[First published on August 10, 2018 but has been re-released due to its continued relevance]
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