• Blizzard’s Overwatch League is adopting some of the same franchising strategies traditional sports currently use.
  • Omen by HP is the official PC and display brand for the new Overwatch League as part of a multi-year sponsorship deal.
  • Josh Kocurek, global marketing manager for gaming and esports at HP, feels the Overwatch League franchises will provide long-term stability for esports sponsorships.
Josh Kocurek, global marketing manager for gaming and esports at HP

Next year will see an unprecedented shift in the business of esports, as both Riot Games and Activision Blizzard will shift to a franchise model inspired by traditional sports.

Riot has awarded ten North American teams a franchise, establishing a solid structure to build around. Meanwhile, Blizzard is taking things a step further by introducing a dozen city-based franchises for the inaugural Overwatch League, which commences Jan. 10, 2018.

Both of these moves, which could be a harbinger of more shifts in the esports ecosystem, open up new opportunities for brands such as HP. Omen by HP is the official PC and display brand for the new Overwatch League, the result of a multi-year sponsorship deal, and the company most recently worked with Blizzard on the recent Overwatch World Cup.

Josh Kocurek, global marketing manager for gaming and esports at HP, feels the franchising of esports is the best thing that could happen.

“From a sponsorship standpoint, one of the biggest pain points in esports has been the long-term stability of the teams and players involved,” Kocurek told AListDaily. “With relegations and not having a solid infrastructure inside these leagues, you never knew who was going to be around tomorrow, and it was difficult to place bets and form strong relationships with everyone involved.”

Now that Riot and Activision Blizzard have put a stake in the ground, Kocurek sees this infrastructure focusing on player longevity.

League and Overwatch will both get better and bigger as time goes on,” Kocurek said. “It’s a safe, comfortable place for big brands to come in and commit to esports with a long-term vision, instead of only planning things year-to-year.”

Kocurek spearheaded HP’s esports game plan for over a year, and he’s seen the marketing initiatives pay off with establishing the Omen brand.

“Since I decided to make this big shift and lean on esports for our approach, we’ve seen growth of awareness of Omen and what we’re here to do with the gaming audience,” Kocurek said. “That’s reflected all the way down to sales and the growth of our market share in key countries.”

HP recently launched its OMEN X gaming laptop, which has been integrated into the Blizzard marketing campaigns. Kocurek said OMEN by HP marketing is targeting gaming enthusiasts, esports athletes and competitive gamers, which ties in nicely with the Overwatch League.

Kocurek believes Blizzard’s decision to utilize Disney/Pixar style graphics makes the game more inviting to both gamers and spectators. To date, over the game has over 35 million players. The Teen rating also allows for more global marketing push, as Blizzard recently flooded the airwaves with commercials promoting a free gameplay weekend.

Having worked with Blizzard on the Overwatch World Cup, HP confirmed that Blizzard has a vast international audience. Therefore, all marketing initiatives for the brand need to activate on a global scale.

“When we do deals and partnerships like those on the size and scale of Overwatch League, it’s crucial for that partnership to work around the world,” Kocurek said.

Blizzard has structured its Overwatch League to have teams in cities across the US, as well as in Shanghai and Seoul. But the international appeal for brands goes beyond those cities. Having a dozen teams spread across the US and Asia also opens up a regional layer for brands to market products directly to local audiences—something that’s a staple in traditional sports.

“When it comes time for us at Omen to do any marketing activity, whether an event or some type of creative at a retail space, knowing there’s going to be local representation from the Overwatch League there allows us to tweak things to that audience,” Kocurek explained. “I’d love to see in the future that if you go to a Best Buy in Dallas there’s an end cap for Omen by HP products feature Dallas Fuel team colors, logo and players. In San Francisco it’d be the Shock and we could even do this in Shanghai and Seoul.”

Kocurek believes regional relevance is crucial for any brand marketing any product today. The goal at HP is to make the creative and messaging be as relevant to the audience as possible, but it’s difficult to do that at scale.

“The city-based league will win because over time as these teams develop that local fan base, the same type of camaraderie that you see today with college and pro sports local teams will occur,” Kocurek said.

While each team will be representing their city in 2018, they won’t begin playing in their home arenas until season 2 at the earliest. But having all of the teams based at Blizzard’s Burbank Studios does offer some advantages for sponsors who need access to players for video, social and other content.

“It gives us direct access to all of the teams and players,” Kocurek said. “We want to establish relationships and a rapport with them so they understand what our objectives are as a brand. The Overwatch League shares a lot of our broader vision of what we stand for in the gaming space, which is to celebrate the competitive fire that’s inside all of us—whether you’re a pro gamer or a casual player. As we look to develop more player profile-centric pieces, it’s important for players to understand what we’re out to do to make the best possible narrative.”