American sports television network ESPN are to cover Blizzard’s Overwatch League playoffs and grand finals, the end of the competition’s first season, as well as planning to cover the next. I’m always fascinated when mainstream sports media peer over our fence and say “Ooh! That looks fun!” then face the impossible task of pleasing both game fans and channel surfers, so it’ll be interesting to see how they tackle this. ESPN have shown pro sitsports before, mind, including Dota 2 and even some cardboard Magic: The Gathering back in the 90s.
The broadcasts will mostly on smaller channels ESPN2, ESPN3, and ESPNews, though day 1 of the Grand Finals will get some time on proper ESPN. Looking at ESPN listings, Overwatch League playoffs are mostly getting half-hour slots so it’ll surely be highlights and analysis rather than full matches. The Disney XD channel will blast Overwatch League too.
Blizzard’s own stream will be free and full on Twitch for everyone to watch, mind.
“The Overwatch League Grand Finals is by far our most comprehensive television distribution for an esports event over a single weekend: 10 total hours over four networks and three days,” Disney and ESPN Media Networks EVP Justin Connolly said in today’s announcement. “This overall collaboration with Disney/ABC, ESPN and Blizzard represents our continued commitment to esports, and we look forward to providing marquee Overwatch League coverage across our television platforms for fans.”
The playoffs start tonight then the Grand Finals begin on July 28th. See the match schedule for full details. Blizzard detail ESPN’s broadcasts in a video, which seems the least useful way to present a schedule table.
Overwatch League is an interesting thing, as attempts to jump-start a top competitive scene by raining cash from above go. Blizzard have tried to tap into local loyalties of traditional sports by tying teams to cities, including the Houston Outlaws, Boston Uprising, and–gag!–London Spitfire. It’s an easy way to hook into newcomers to make them root for a team but ah, I don’t know. Blizzard’s efforts are slightly undone by the fact that the only times I have any awareness of individual Overwatch League players are when Blizzard punish them for racist or homophobic ‘jokes’. Not the strongest look, especially in comparison to the anti-racism kneeling protests of American handegg.