Blizzard Entertainment officially announced the addition of two expansion franchises to the Overwatch League on Thursday, as teams from Atlanta and Guangzhou, China will enter the competition next season.
The two teams are the first of an expected six that will take the league from its inaugural 12 members up to a total of 18 for the second season.
Price of Entry is Going Up
The Atlanta team is owned by Cox Enterprises, an Atlanta-based communications and media company, and will be operated by Atlanta Esports Ventures. The Guangzhou franchise is owned and operated by the Nenking Group, which also owns the Guangzhou Long Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.
�We know Atlanta and Guangzhou have deeply engaged fan communities and we can�t wait to unveil their teams,� said Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer. �As the league continues to grow, we�re looking forward to seeing more talented pros in action as more roster spots open up.�
While the 12 original franchises were sold for $20 million each, it appears as though additional team slots are now being sold at a premium off the success of the first season. While the exact details of the new franchise sales have not been released, ESPN reported that the asking price for this round of expansion has ranged from $30 million to $60 million.
It�s likely that additional expansion efforts will be focused on Asia and Europe. Last week, ESPN cited league sources that said that Blizzard has sold a franchise to McCourt Global, which already owns French soccer club Olympique de Marseille, to place a team in Paris. The Paris team has yet to be officially announced by the league.
Global Expansion Critical for Overwatch League Plans
The Paris and Guangzhou franchises could soon be joined by more international franchises, as the Overwatch League may need more regional diversity to make its long-term plans work.
In the first season, nine of the 12 teams in the league were based in US cities. However, this made little logistical difference: all 12 teams played out of a studio in Burbank, California, meaning there were no travel concerns for the teams.
But Blizzard hopes that teams will be based out of their own cities eventually, perhaps as early as the 2020 season. That would provide teams with a real connection to the communities they�re named after, but comes at a cost, as there are franchises attached to cities everywhere from New York to Shanghai.
If more teams are added throughout the globe, those travel concerns could be largely mitigated.
�As we add more teams, you can see additional divisions being added, and you could see a world where teams play most of their games within their division,� Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer told The Washington Post�before last week’s Grand Final. �Shanghai will play San Francisco at least once a year�but Shanghai will probably play more games against Seoul in the region than they would against San Francisco.�
While logistics are a long-term concern, the immediate worry for expansion franchises is the same as in any league: a desire to quickly put together a competitive roster from scratch. Atlanta Esports Ventures CEO Paul Hamilton says that the Atlanta squad will look to compete as soon as possible in an effort to create the same kind of buzz Atlanta United did when it joined MLS.
�I want the best players possible,� Hamilton told ESPN. �I would love to engage the southeast with players that are there and up-and-coming players, and we�ll certainly develop some strategies around cultivating that in our home market. That�s the long-term plan, but short-term, we want to win.�