Blizzard is really looking to change the world when it comes to their entry in the realm of esports with Overwatch. We've all known about the Overwatch League for a while now, but it's only recently that Blizzard is really selling the details. As it turns out, the first season of Overwatch League will utilize a scouting report that Blizzard has created themselves. It shows the stats of the best Overwatch players in the world. League team owners will use the stats contained within this report to find and gauge the players they might potentially want to add to their teams. This stat-based system will allow anyone to be a potential part of the Overwatch League, so long as they are great players. Amateurs and pros alike will go shoulder-to-shoulder in the very first Overwatch League.
As if the “champion the little guy” approach wasn't enough to draw people in already, Blizzard has also announced the salary and benefits that players will have. Overwatch League teams are guaranteed slots in Season One, so there's stability there. The other major selling point Blizzard is pushing is for the players themselves. They will sign contracts that will guarantee them an entire year of participation in the League. At the end of that year, they'll have the option to extend their contract for another year.
Guarantees and contracts are all well and good, but Blizzard has more up their sleeves. Overwatch League team members will get health insurance, housing, and practice facilities during the season. This will be provided by team owners and must meet Overwatch League standards. They will also get a percentage of team performance bonuses and, oh yeah, a retirement savings plan. This is all on top of the minimum salary of $50,000 per year. The assumption here is that more popular/talented players will get a higher salary.
I first learned all of this today while watching a video from the official YouTube account. The video itself plays much like a recruitment video. A vast array of emotions went through me as I watched it. There was awe, as I grew up in an era where the side-scroller Duke Nukem was the best computer game. There was also an awkward pit in the bottom of my stomach that I just couldn't shake. I felt like I was watching a video intended to indoctrinate people into a cult. But, I was also afraid for those people who decide to go down the path of becoming a professional gamer.
As quickly as the career choice of “pro gamer” has arrived, it could disappear. The technology industry, as a whole, is incredibly fickle, and the video game industry even more so, if that's even really possible. All it takes is one slip for a game to go from fantastic fame to dust in the wind. There are fears that the seemingly unstoppable Pokemon Go might not recover from its recent live event disaster. Say Overwatch introduces one character in the future that unintentionally alienates a giant portion of their fanbase. The game would die and the league would too.
Blizzard is offering many fantastic benefits to people who might be considering this path. Not only will they give you guarantees of employment, benefits that seem incomparable to anything else, and a salary like no other, they also seem to offer a future. The retirement funds that Blizzard is offering to Overwatch League players should theoretically move with them, should they ever decide gaming is not for them anymore. This is perhaps the most enticing benefit of all. The reason being, it guarantees you something to take with you when Overwatch fizzles out. The league could collapse, you could get a much better job offer, or perhaps you may want to actually retire. The money will be there for you and for whatever family you happen to have along the way.
It seems like the best addition to a foolproof plan. When the haters chime in that your professional gaming career won't last, you can just tell them that you've got a retirement savings plan for when that happens. However, those haters still have some credence. Say you enter the Overwatch League and it (as well as your involvement) lasts for five years. That retirement plan might tide you over until you find another job or career, but you might never make as much money as you used to. Especially since you've devoted that much time to something that most other industries won't recognize when hiring. Even the game industry might not recognize it. Unless you somehow learned how to develop games over that time period, you'd probably be relegated to tester or something similar. Your life could be in shambles with seemingly no where to go.
As exciting as esports and the beginning of the Overwatch League are, they are still incredibly frightening. I couldn't be more excited about and astonished at the rampant speed at which the tech and video game industries are developing and evolving. Yet, I know that evolution doesn't stop just because something awesome is happening. Just as the Overwatch League is going to evolve, it could quickly cease to exist. Players who want to devote their lives to this sort of thing really need to weigh the risks and benefits. They need to take their decision seriously. The rest of their life could depend on it.
As a final closing note, I understand completely that my ranting could turn out to be completely wrong. Maybe I'm like a silent film-era Charlie Chaplin shouting to the rest of Hollywood that “talkies” will never really be popular. Maybe esports are going to become as popular as regular sports have been for centuries. This could very well be the way of the future, and Blizzard is marking their place in history as the start of it. Frankly no one knows, but I'm glad to be here along for the ride as a bystander.