Katrina Weil, PSB Research
Image Credit: Ben Pursell, Blizzard Entertainment
In 2016, video game developer and publisher Blizzard Entertainment announced the creation of the Overwatch League (OWL), an international esports league for their successful title Overwatch. Overwatch is an intense 6v6 competitive video game where players choose various heroes with a wide range of powerful abilities to accomplish in-game objectives.
Following a more traditional sports model, OWL features 20 city-based franchise teams, all of which competed and lived in Los Angeles for the first two seasons. However, history will be made on February 8th as OWL will officially go global, fulfilling Blizzard’s initial promise of geolocated teams and matches.
Season 3 will see all OWL matches played at 52 Homestand Weekend events hosted at venues in North America, Europe, and Asia. Six to eight matches will be played at each Homestand Weekend, alongside home city-themed festivities and opportunities to meet players.
OWL’s risk in being a pioneer among home and away esports leagues provides Blizzard with unique and unprecedented challenges. PSB Research surveyed a group of 1,420 esports-aware Americans ages 18-54 between January 23-25, 2020, to better understand the consumers OWL will need to target in order to fill arenas and live up to high expectations.
Infographics in pdf format can be downloaded here.
Americans’ Awareness and Interest in Overwatch
In 2020, eleven American OWL teams will host Homestand Weekends in their city’s local arenas and venues, moving from Los Angeles’s Blizzard Arena, which held nearly every match in the league’s first two seasons. In 2019’s first attempt at a Homestand Weekend, the Dallas Fuel sold out a 4,500-person venue, but with this model being used worldwide, how can OWL teams achieve similar successes throughout the season?
According to PSB’s data, although 43% of esports-aware Americans have at least heard of Overwatch before, only 38% self-identify as Avid Gamers, those who describe themselves as someone who regularly or frequently plays video games. Among Avid Gamers, Overwatch awareness skyrockets to 90%, with 30% also having experience playing the game.
While only 35% of esports-aware Americans said they were interested in viewing esports, the majority (62%) of Avid Gamers expressed interest. It became clear in this study that Avid Gamers are one of the most vital audiences for OWL teams to target going forward, especially those who are residents of the U.S. host cities.
Why Do Avid Gamers Watch Esports?
Image Credit: Robert Paul, Blizzard Entertainment
When examining why most Avid Gamers are interested in watching esports, a few themes arose. Both Avid Gamers (54%) and Americans who were previously familiar with OWL (45%) noted their top motivation to view esports was “watching the best players compete against each other.” The second highest performing reason for interest among Avid Gamers was “sharpening my skills by learning new strategies or techniques.”
Avid Gamers were more enticed to watch esports due to the quality of play and the opportunity to improve their own skill, but those already familiar with OWL also cited community as being integral to watching esports.
While 42% of OWL-familiar Americans said “making friends and getting to know other esports viewers” was a reason for interest, they were 8% more likely than Avid Gamers to find “feeling closer to my favorite teams and players by supporting them as a fan” important. The least commonly selected reason for Avid Gamers to watch esports was “supporting my home team,” a concerning output ahead of OWL’s local activation of their geolocated franchising model.
What About Live Esports Attracts Local Avid Gamers and Residents?
With 50% of Avid Gamers living in a U.S. city with an OWL franchise, this key target audience’s awareness, interest, and likelihood to attend a Homestand Weekend is a predictor of an event’s outreach success. When asked to select the top three reasons to attend a live esports event, Avid Gamers living in OWL hometowns were most interested in watching the best esports competitors in person (41%), experiencing esports in an arena setting (34%), and making new friends (34%).These three reasons were also among the top four for esports-aware OWL Hometown Residents.
The least compelling reasons for esports-aware Hometown Residents to attend were access to exclusive merchandise (22%) and meeting players (24%). Avid Gamers living in OWL hometowns shared this lower interest in merchandise (22%), with only 27% of this audience saying that meeting their favorite players would be a top three draw.
With many teams offering exclusive merchandise and meet-and-greet events for an additional price at their Homestand Weekends, these add-ons are not a motivator to attend for non-superfans. The novelty of home esports franchises, quality of gameplay, and the social opportunities to make friends and meet other fans are the key drivers for more casual fans.
How Likely Are Local Avid Gamers and Residents to Attend OWL Homestands?
Image Credit: Robert Paul, Blizzard Entertainment
Among Local Avid Gamers, those living in OWL hometowns, 64% were aware that their city would host Homestand Weekends, 20% higher awareness than esports-aware Hometown Residents. This variance in awareness carried over to interest, with Local Avid Gamers being 23% more likely to be interested in learning more about their city’s Homestand Weekend.
After reading a description of OWL and Homestand Weekends, respondents were asked how likely they would be to attend one of these events. While only 35% of esports-aware Hometown Residents said it was very likely that they would attend, the majority (54%) of Local Avid Gamers believe it is very likely they will attend. Among Hometown Residents who said they were very unlikely to attend a Homestand Weekend, 78% explained that it would be due to lack of interest.
When examining individual city interest, findings become directional due to smaller n-sizes. However, awareness (55%) and interest (82%) in Homestand Weekends was highest in Washington, D.C. among Hometown Residents. The Washington Justice will host five Homestand Weekends in 2020, one of the highest numbers of planned events for the year across the entire league. Philadelphia saw the worst performance in awareness (13%), interest (24%), and likelihood to attend (34%), a concerning finding given that Philadelphia hosted the 2019 Grand Finals and the local OWL franchise has broken ground on construction of an esports arena. It is important to reinforce that these findings are directional, however, this will be monitored in future studies.
OWL’s regular season will run from February 8th to August 9th with 52 opportunities for local fans to support their home teams. As the season progresses, PSB Research will continue to monitor awareness, interest, and attendance among all U.S. OWL franchises.
2020 U.S. OWL Franchises:
Los Angeles Gladiators
Los Angeles Valiant
New York Excelsior
San Francisco Shock
About the author:
Katrina Weil is an analyst for gaming, esports, and livestreaming at PSB Research. In addition to her research, Weil is also a journalist, covering Overwatch Contenders and Overwatch League on behalf of the Overwatch League.