Cloud9 takes London Overwatch League slot, while LA Rams owner Kroenke Sports grabs one of two L.A. teams
Two more owners have been added to the list of buyers for Blizzard's Overwatch League—Jack Etienne of Cloud9 and Stan and Josh Kroenke of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, who own the LA Rams, Arsenal Football Club, and the Denver Nuggets.
Cloud9 will set up its home base in London, while KSE Esports—that's Kroenke's new esports organization—will build a team in Los Angeles, joining Immortals in the City of Angels.
This announcement brings the total participants in the Overwatch League up to nine. NRG Esports in San Francisco, Misfits Gaming in Miami-Orlando, and Immortals in Los Angeles were announced in mid-July alongside four other teams headed by non-endemic owners: New England Patriots and Kraft Group CEO Robert Kraft in Boston, New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon in New York, Chinese internet technology company NetEase in Shanghai, and Kabam co-founder Kevin Chou in Seoul.
"When the league was announced, it was top priority for Cloud9 to be a part of it," Etienne told Dot Esports. "Not only has Overwatch experienced explosive growth, but the type of league they are creating has never been done before."
I really had to convince Blizzard that Cloud9 could do a good job for people in England and London.
London may seem like a strange choice for the North American esports organization, but it makes sense to Etienne.
"I really had to convince Blizzard that Cloud9 could do a good job for people in England and London," Etienne said. "I went to great lengths to prove that. Yeah, we originate from North America, but we've had European teams throughout the history of Cloud9. We've built a very strong fan base there."
And Etienne expects that fan base to transfer into Overwatch as well, and that's simply by having a team that London can be proud of. "The first thing I'm going to be doing is looking to build the strongest team possible, so that everyone can feel proud of calling us their local team," he added.
That means that all positions on the current Cloud9 Overwatch team are up for grabs, though players already part of the organization will, of course, be evaluated. "They're not locked into being Cloud9," Etienne said. "I am out there looking at other players, [so they] should have the right to evaluate any other teams that are out there that they're interested in. I'm introducing them to other Overwatch League owners if they're curious about what's out there."
KSE Esports doesn't have that same basis to build from, so they'll be even more busy during the Overwatch League signing period, which spans from Aug. 1 to Oct. 30. Players signed to all Overwatch League teams will be guaranteed a minimum salary of $50,000 per year, as well as performance bonuses, healthcare, and a retirement savings plan.
[Los Angeles] is big enough to support two teams in the league
As the second Los Angeles-based team in the Overwatch League, KSE Esports has more potential to rally its fan base and create a city-wide rivalry, commissioner Nate Nanzer said. "It'll be really cool to add some even more hyper-local rivalries to that as well. But it really just comes down to the size of the market, and L.A. is a huge market for esports. We think it's certainly big enough to support two teams in the league."
That's something Immortals CEO Noah Whinston is looking to leverage as well. "We were aware from before we committed that there was a possibility of having multiple teams in L.A.," Whinston told Dot Esports. "Obviously having an entire territory to ourselves would be nice, but being able to create local rivalries is really big."
All parties agree that Los Angeles is certainly big enough for two teams. It's a big market, and one that's not homogeneous. Both teams will likely target different sectors of the potential audience, Whinston said. Each brand will have its own unique identity.
There's time to create those identities, too. Overwatch League's first season will have all teams competing in Los Angeles—the city-based, hyper-local part isn't as prominent in the first iteration. By the time Overwatch League expands to venues around the world, Los Angeles' Overwatch teams will be more established.
More doubled-up cities are possible, but it's not something Blizzard is focused on, Nanzer added. More announcements regarding team owners will be released before the launch of the league.
An ESPN report suggested that Team EnVyUs will operate as the Austin-Dallas Overwatch League team, bringing the Overwatch League up to 10 teams. Should the deal get finalized as expected, an announcement will likely come soon.
Overwatch League is expected to begin later this year. Exact timeline details will be announced "over the coming months," according to Blizzard. The league's signing period ends just before BlizzCon begins on Nov. 3, so it's possible that more information will arrive then.