This article is part of our Overwatch series.
The Overwatch League postseason expansion has long been anticipated after the League made clear its plans to add six new teams before the start of the second season. On August 2nd Blizzard announced that Cox Enterprises had bought a franchise slot for a team in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States and that the Nenking Group had purchased another franchise slot for a team in Guangzhou, China. Jacob Wolf of ESPN has previously reported that Olympique Marseille is finalizing a deal to secure the third franchise slot for a team in Paris, France. There are still three franchise slots up for grabs and I’m here to give my take on what cities have the most likely chance of gaining an Overwatch League team.
Tier 3 Cities:
The cities in Tier 3 are cities that could be looked at for another round of expansions after Season 2 or even Season 3.
Bangkok - The SEA Region has a fairly sizeable Overwatch player base and Bangkok is hosting group stage matches for the Overwatch World Cup 2018. While this could mean that Blizzard thinks that Thailand could produce a good turnout and that might translate to good attendance numbers for an OWL team, it could also be Blizzard testing the waters. Vietnam and Singapore also have a good amount of Overwatch players who may be willing to travel were an OWL team to set up shop in Bangkok.
Madrid - It's no secret that a sizeable portion of the OWL community have gripes with there being only one team in Europe right now. Nate Nanzer has expressed an interest in expanding outside of the United States to solidify the Overwatch League as a global league. Futbol club Real Madrid has denied rumors of picking up a FIFA team, which indicates that the club is keeping out of esports for now making it unlikely they would shell out $30M or more to bring the Overwatch League to Spain. The 2018 EU LCS finals will take place in Madrid at the end of August and if all goes well, it could cause Real Madrid to change their tune.
Tokyo - Japan didn’t take to esports as quickly as other countries, likely do to a penchant for single player games like RPGs. However, in February the Japan Esports Union was born and has since garnered widespread support from the local gaming industry, which includes the likes of Nintendo and Sony. At the 2022 Asian Games, esports will be a medal event, and possibly a test run for inclusion in the Olympic Games, so Japan is now in a hurry to catch up. Bringing the Overwatch League to Tokyo would be a way to create more of a player base in the region and would draw a crowd either way, but for the time being Blizzard probably has bigger targets in mind.
Sao Paulo - In addition to being one of the largest cities in the world, Sao Paulo is steadily starting to become a hub for Brazilian esports. Brazil is incredibly passionate about esports spectatorship and that passion was rewarded in April with EA and LG sponsoring the Esports World Convention (ESWC) FIFA tournament in Sao Paulo. In addition, ESL has also held tournaments in the city. With Argentina also having a sizeable Overwatch community, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Blizzard looking for a South American franchise in the near future.
Dublin - There is enough interest in both Scotland, which will be hosting the first Blizzard-backed Overwatch tournament on console later this year, and Ireland, which hosts Games Expo Ireland and Three Ireland’s ESTARS, to warrant consideration for an second OWL Team in the British Isles. I chose Dublin over Glasgow or Edinburough due to its more youthful population and flourishing technology industry. It is also important to note that since Dublin is in the Republic of Ireland, it might be an easier franchise target since we cannot determine how far London’s regional rights extend.
Tier 2 Cities:
Tier 2 Cities are a mixture of those that could still be considered for the current expansion but have some major flaws and those that should probably wait until another round of expansions, but have some serious upside that could bump up that timeline.
Berlin - Berlin has been tossed around as a city that is most likely to get one of the expansion franchises. Berlin is a great candidate with a proven ability to draw crowds to esports events as the EU LCS Studio makes its home in the German capital city. However, due to location, Berlin may not have the reach of other cities and Blizzard may shy away from competing with League of Legends so early in the lifetime of the Overwatch League.
Rome - While Italy does not have the most robust player base when it comes to Overwatch, Rome’s ties to esports could bring the Overwatch League to the peninsula. Local futbol club AS Roma has not been shy about embracing esports, pairing up with Fnatic to field a FIFA squad that has a successful first year. Fnatic lost out on a possible London franchise when Cloud9 swooped in, so if the esports giants do look to get into the Overwatch League, Rome might be the next best thing.
Hong Kong - Hong Kong was originally a Tier 1 team until the Guangzhou franchise was announced. There could be regional restrictions imposed by Guangzhou, but the clarity of that possibility is muddled by Hong Kong being an autonomous territory. Hong Kong could develop a strong rivalry with Guangzhou and possibly share the cost of an arena, but two teams in such close proximity could compete for viewership if the organizations are not willing to cooperate.
Chicago - Fans in the United States have been clamoring for a mid-western team since the Overwatch League was announced. As Chicago is labeled the New York of the midwest most people assume that Chicago is the natural fit for an expansion team. Chicago has good proximity to other cities in the region, but the largest esport event in recent memory was a Fortnite tournament hosted by Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and perhaps MLG Chicago in the early 2000’s. The infrastructure also may not lend itself to the construction of a new esports arena, unless one of the many sports teams in the area is the backer.
Denver - Denver is another possibility for a mid-west team, but it has the opposite problem of Chicago. Denver is a city on the rise with plenty of space for a new esports venture and the city already plays host to an annual Dreamhack event, thanks to Dreamhack having a base of operations in Denver. The Overwatch Contenders studio is also in the area. Yet another bonus is the city being a finalist for the new Amazon HQ. The downsides are that unlike Chicago, Denver is not close to anything besides Colorado Springs. Denver International Airport is one of the largest airports in the country and the city has announced plans to build a high-speed train between Colorado Springs and Denver, but other than that the nearest major city is about 6.5 hours away. Another problem is that the most likely investor in a Denver franchise, Stan Kroenke, already owns the Los Angeles Gladiators, thus making it improbable he would own a second franchise. Unless a new investor presents themselves, Denver’s most likely shot at a team in the near future is the Los Angeles Gladiators being relocated.
Las Vegas - Sin City is a bit of an enigma, much like Denver it has some really great qualities to be considered for an expansion teams, but also some qualities that might give prospective investors pause. The Luxor Hotel and Casino just opened up The Esports Arena, where Ninja has also hosted a Fortnite event. The city also has a brand new NHL team and soon a new NFL team as well. However, Las Vegas is also quite far from a lot of other cities and due to the high number of visitors, the organization may not be able to accurately predict the consistency of attendance. Las Vegas should still be on the list but might have to wait and see how well the Golden Knights and Raiders do before adding an OWL team.
Tier 1 Cities:
Tier 1 cities are those that should still be in the running and are strong contenders for the remaining Overwatch League expansion slots.
Busan - Korea is the biggest scene for esports in general and is a hotbed for Overwatch fans. Busan makes sense on all levels. It seems unlikely that Seoul’s regional rights would extend across the entire country, and in addition, Busan could possibly draw spectators from neighboring Japan. Busan should be a frontrunner.
Cologne - Cologne is home to ESL, who has hosted numerous major esports events across the world and plenty within its home city. While most people expect Berlin to be the frontrunner to get an expansion team in Germany, Cologne is in a more populous area of the country with Frankfurt and Dortmund nearby. On top of that, Cologne is close to the border of both Belgium and the Netherlands. Cologne should have a massive draw for an Overwatch League franchise in Germany.
Toronto / Vancouver - Much like fans want a team in the midwest of the United States, fans feel like Canada deserves a team. While we could eventually see both Toronto and Vancouver getting a team, both are equally deserving of a team. Vancouver will play host to Valve’s The International 2018 and is close enough to Seattle that it could attract spectators from the Emerald City, not to mention that an esports stadium is currently being built in Richmond. Toronto hasn’t hosted the biggest esports events but there have been some and the city has a lively esports culture with plenty of viewing events and esports bars. Toronto is close enough to the border to draw interest from Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland and maybe even Pittsburgh. Not to mention, Toronto is home to the Contenders affiliate of the Boston Uprising.
Beijing - While it's obvious that Blizzard wants to continue expansion into China for the viewership numbers, the Guangzhou franchise may have diminished Beijing’s chances for this initial expansion. The performance of the Shanghai Dragons this season could also be putting a damper on investor interest as well, but Beijing getting a team isn’t a matter of if but a matter of when.
Stockholm - Stockholm seems to have disappeared from people’s lists of possible expansion cities, but I consider it to be a strong sleeper. Stockholm has hosted countless esports events across multiple titles. It is home to Modern Times Group, which owns ESL Gaming, Dreamhack and plenty esports startups. Sweden is constantly producing high quality esports players across nearly all major titles and consistently ranks among the top five countries for competitive Overwatch, nobody should be surprised if Stockholm nabs an expansion slot in the Overwatch League.