Blizzard has announced it is establishing a professional competitive league for Overwatch, its popular hero-based shooter. Announced during Blizzcon 2016, the Overwatch League is described as a "world-class sports ecosystem for professional Overwatch competition."
"Combining Blizzard's esports pedigree with the best practices of major professional sports, the Overwatch League will focus on long-term stability for teams as well as opportunities for players to establish the types of professional careers associated with traditional sports," the studio says in a press release.
"The Overwatch League represents not only the pinnacle of Overwatch competition, but also a genuine career opportunity for the most skilled Overwatch players," added Mike Morhaime, chief executive and cofounder of Blizzard. "We're building a league that’s accessible to players and fans, sustainable, and exciting for everyone involved."
Blizzard has extensive experience in operating competitive leagues for its games, having achieved success with the StarCraft 2 World Championship Series. The first season of the Overwatch League will begin in 2017 and Blizzard will host a combine and invite players "who have previously distinguished themselves in competition" to try out for teams.
"Players at the combine will be evaluated across a range of tests, giving teams the opportunity to sign those who best round out their rosters. Anyone picked up by a team during the signing period will be guaranteed a contract that includes a baseline minimum salary and benefits pack."
The press release continues: "To support the growth and sustainability of local fan bases, Overwatch League teams will represent major cities from different regions. Once these city-based teams have been admitted to the league, their spots will be secured, giving them the best opportunity to grow and thrive for years to come.
"Team announcements and additional Overwatch League information will be shared in the coming months. In the meantime, players who aspire to compete in the Overwatch League should continue making a name for themselves in Overwatch."
During parent company Activision's latest earnings call, Blizzard's Morhaime said it plans to release more Overwatch DLC and launch new in-game events in the future, noting that the Summer Games and Halloween events were well-received by players.
Blizzard also reiterated that Overwatch has 20 million registered players, though the game hasn't necessarily sold that many copies. This, according to the studio, is the fastest any Blizzard game has ever reached the 20 million registered players milestone.