A league of their own

Age of the Geek Column: What a game on Sunday, right?

What a great story for Philadelphia, finally getting their revenge on the Patriots, even taking Tom Brady's play and showing them how to do it properly.

But now what? What do sports fans do with their weekends? Once Philadelphia is re-built after the Sunday night celebration, what can Eagles fans do to kill time between now and next season?

When will New England get their chance at redemption, or when will Philadelphia be able to rub some salt in that wound?

It might be sooner than you think.

On Thursday, teams from Philadelphia and Boston will face off again. It will be a brutal match with cyborg ninjas, time-displaced assassins, and probably a talking gorilla rampaging across the playing field.

I am, of course, talking about the Overwatch League.

The NFL season may be over, but the inaugural season of the Overwatch League is just getting started. Determined to raise the profile of professional eSports, Blizzard has gone to great lengths to create a league that emulates their real-life counterparts.

The newly formed Overwatch League features 12 teams that will play weekly division and non-division games over five months, competing for a spot in the playoffs and ultimately the grand finals.

eSports have a long way to go before the OWL becomes as widely renowned as the NFL, but Blizzard has made some significant strides towards establishing their legitimacy, thanks in large part to the sheer amount of money that's being thrown at it.

Starting an Overwatch League franchise starts at a $20 million buy-in, with players receiving a minimum salary of $50,000 as they compete for a $3.5 million prize pool. The significant starting costs have made it hard to convince investors to participate, resulting in just 12 teams to start with, but a few big players in the sports world have taken the plunge. While most of the teams are owned by gaming related organizations, a third of the owners come from professional sports.

Kraft Group, who owns the New England Patriots, invested in the league to create the Boston Uprising. This, in a way, means that Tom Brady and Jonathan "DreamKazper" Sanchez, are co-workers. Or, at the very least, the same parent company signs their respective paychecks.

Not that you'll probably see them together at the Kraft company picnic, or even on the streets of Boston.

In spite of a line-up of teams that range from Dallas and New York to Shanghai and Seoul, the globe spanning image of a worldwide eSports league is more wishful thinking than reality at this point.

The London Spitfire, for instance, are owned by a California based organization and their team roster is made up entirely of South Koreans.

Meanwhile the Florida Mayhem are owned by a British organization and their team consists primarily of Swedes. And you won't see players from either team in London or Miami since the entire league plays their games at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California.

Naturally this situation isn't the long term plan. As the league grows it's expected that the regional franchises will eventually build arenas of their own for proper home and away games. For the moment though, it's probably a good idea that the league is taking baby steps.

Even though the regionally based teams are more illusionary than anything else, it hasn't stopped franchises from developing the same kind of fan bases, or the drama that comes with it. Right off the bat, teams had to make a choice between recruiting players from their home regions or actually winning by stacking their rosters with South Koreans. Currently, the highest rated team with an American player are the fourth ranked Houston Outlaws.

Storylines are starting to formulate as well. The Florida Mayhem, rated at the bottom of their division, have quickly become the loveable underdogs among the viewer base. Nobody expects them to win, but fans cheer for them none-the-less.

It will be interesting to see if the Overwatch League can sustain itself. Day one viewership saw more than 400,000 people tuning in, though that number eventually petered out to a 75,000 baseline. It's not huge viewership, but it's a good start.

In the meantime, I'll just be here, futilely rooting for the Florida Mayhem.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and would like to see an Iowa Overwatch team. Maybe the "Des Moines Destroyers" or "Iowa Incredibles."