The Overwatch League announced Tuesday their homestand format for the 2020 competitive year, dividing the league into four new divisions and running two separate local events simultaneously throughout the season, which will run February through August.
Each Overwatch League team will be required to host a minimum of two, and a maximum of five, local weekend events. Those teams are responsible for selecting and operating their venues, while the league will be in charge of the broadcasts. The format is strictly for the 2020 season; Overwatch developer Activision Blizzard said it intends to make tweaks in future seasons based off next year's experience.
"We're announcing fewer events in most markets than we had discussed in the past," Pete Vlastelica, president and CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports and commissioner of Overwatch League, told ESPN. "Part of the reason for that is to ensure that we get as many people as possible into these venues. We were optimizing for big, sold-out crowds. Because it's our first year, we don't know how many big, sold-out crowds a market can support yet.
"We're pretty sure that it's at least a couple, but we don't know if it's 10 or eight, or what. Starting with a couple and giving more than that to the teams that convince us and/or convince themselves that there's more demand in that market starting next year felt like the right place to start."
The league will retain the Pacific and Atlantic conferences, with the Pacific Conference split into Eastern and Western divisions and the Atlantic Conference featuring the Northern and Southern divisions.
In the Pacific, the Eastern Division will consist of the Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, Seoul Dynasty and Shanghai Dragons. The Western Division features the Dallas Fuel, Los Angeles Gladiators, Los Angeles Valiant, San Francisco Shock and Vancouver Titans.
In the Atlantic Conference, the Southern Division is comprised of the Atlanta Reign, Florida Mayhem, Houston Outlaws, Philadelphia Fusion and Washington Justice. Meanwhile, the Northern Division will be made up of the Boston Uprising, New York Excelsior, Toronto Defiant, London Spitfire and Paris Eternal.
The news comes after the second of three 2019 homestands, which took place in Atlanta on July 6-7 and sold out the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre that Saturday. The first homestand, hosted by the Dallas Fuel at the 8,100-capacity Allen Event Center, also sold out the two days of competition. The final homestand this year will take place on Aug. 24-25 in Los Angeles at The Novo at L.A. Live, which is owned by Los Angeles Valiant investor Anschutz Entertainment Group.
"We gave every team an opportunity to host a homestand weekend [in 2019]," Vlastelica said. "These three weren't the only [teams] who wanted to do it, but they were the three who made the best case for it. The case that they made in general was a combination of venue plan, fan activation plan and general investment. Also, an enthusiasm for getting an early start. We saw that out of all three of these groups, that was their primary motivation. They had their eye on 2020 in the same way we did."
Moving teams to their home markets is the fulfillment of a promise made by the Overwatch League to their owners at the introduction of the league in late 2016 at the annual BlizzCon in Anaheim, California. Many Overwatch League investors also own traditional sports teams, such as New England Patriots owner Kraft Sports Group, Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke and New York Mets owners the Wilpon family. While the model isn't a traditional sports home-away format, Vlastelica said it's a step in the right direction.
"One point that all of the owners got comfortable with is that this is not a change in the vision of what we're doing as a league," Vlastelica said. "This is a step we're taking to make sure we get to the long-term vision. The other North Star that we pointed to with all of the owners was that we wanted to optimize for as many fans as possible, in larger venues like [in Atlanta and Dallas]. In the end, this bridge format solution was overwhelmingly popular with our owners and that helped confirm that it was a good move. It's more efficient, costs less."
Only one team so far has announced their venue, with the Valiant occupying the Microsoft Theater in L.A. Live, which is also owned by AEG. Other teams are expected to begin finalizing those agreements as the league completes 2020 schedule.