After a successful first season, the Overwatch League kicked off its second season in February, 2019. Overwatch is a popular first person shooter (FPS) game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, which also oversees the esports league of the same name. For the current season, the league has added eight more teams to its roster reflecting the rise in popularity not only in the game but also esports as an industry. Now with 20 teams, a total of 193 athletes compete in the Atlantic and Pacific divisions.
The Philadelphia Fusion, which placed second in the previous inaugural Overwatch League, is owned and operated by Comcast Spectacor, a Pennsylvania-based sports and entertainment company which also owns traditional sports teams such as the Philadelphia Flyers and the Maine Mariners. And with the esports industry experiencing a period of explosive growth, Comcast is poised to tap into the expanding market by joining hands with South Korea’s largest telecommunications company, SK Telecom. In the same month that the Overwatch League season two kicked off, the two companies announced that they will form a joint venture to create T1 Entertainment & Sports, a company dedicated to everything esports. While Comcast Spectacor currently only owns an Overwatch gaming team, the new venture is expected to expand its portfolio by supporting teams playing other games such as League of Legends, Fortnite, and Super Smash Bros.
Comcast’s decision to collaborate with SK telecom, owner of the League of Legends gaming team T1, signals more than a simple international joint venture. The Western esports industry has been looking East for growth opportunities, as Asia region is projected to account for 57% of global esports enthusiasts this year. Furthermore, teaming up with SK telecom from South Korea, home of esports, will help Comcast and the Western esports industry boost market presence in the lucrative Asian market.
The United States is the world leader in esports revenue, being responsible for 37% of global total revenue. The annual revenue for esports in North America in 2017 was $345 million, and the industry is projected to reach near $1.8 billion globally by 2022. The momentum of growth in esports is backed by robust viewership from younger generations. Three-quarters of teens and young adults aged between 14 and 21 identify as gamers in the United States, and 58% of young Americans reported that they have watched a live or recorded video of other people playing video games. Furthermore, 38% of respondents identified as a fan of esports, not dissimilar to the 40% who responded they were fans of the NFL.
Brian Kim is participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He holds a master's degree in Korean Language and Asian Studies from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.