Esports coming: Baltimore/Washington is one of eight Overwatch League expansion teams

After a successful pilot season, the Overwatch League, based on the multiplayer shooter game from Activision Blizzard, is adding eight more teams to its inaugural dozen, and a Baltimore/Washington franchise is one of them, the league announced Friday.

The new team, still unnamed, is owned by venture capitalists Mark Ein and Dyson Dryden, who partnered to form Washington Esports Ventures. The team will aim to represent the Baltimore, Washington and Virginia region, and though it will likely be known as the Washington franchise, Dryden, a Baltimore native, said he will push to inject a prominent Charm City influence into the team’s appearance.

“We plan on having a real presence in Baltimore,” Ein said. “This is the first truly global sports league with teams across Asia and Europe. We want to be really the first team to represent an entire thriving capital region, which collectively is the third-biggest economy in the United States.”

Baltimore/Washington joins Atlanta and Guangzhou, China, which were added last month, and Chengdu, China; Hangzhou, China; Paris; Toronto; and Vancouver in the expansion. There are now 11 American teams, five Asian teams, two European teams and, for the first time, two Canadian teams.

All 12 original teams played their first season at Blizzard Arena in the Los Angeles area, but the league’s goal is to eventually implement a home-and-away format with local venues. There isn’t a timetable on that yet because the league wants to give the new teams time to settle and bloom first, but the hope, Dyson said, is to fully localize by the third season.

The Baltimore/Washington franchise will seek to play primarily in Washington but plans to split time from Baltimore to Richmond, Va., and “everything in between.”

“There’s a really active esports community throughout the region, and particularly Overwatch as well,” Ein said. “We really view the team as a professional team competing in the Overwatch League, but also a catalyst and a platform to promote esports and Overwatch more broadly from the professional level.”

The Baltimore/Washington team, as well as the other seven additions, will be given an exclusive window to sign players starting Sunday, before the original dozen have a chance to edit their own rosters. With the Overwatch League World Cup in Los Angeles, Bangkok and Paris, as well as the semipro Overwatch Contenders, there will be a long list of free agents for the new team to pick from.

The Overwatch League, already boasting team owners such as Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, coasted through a successful inaugural season that made a reported $90 million, quadruple initial projections, as well as a two-year Twitch deal and multiple corporate sponsorships worth tens of millions.

The Grand Finals, held at the end of July at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., welcomed over 22,000 fans in just two days — most of whom, the league said, had purchased tickets before the teams competing had even been finalized.

With new international franchises, as well as three original overseas teams in London, Seoul, South Korea, and Shanghai, there will be heavy, long travel in the Baltimore/Washington team’s future. However, before enacting the home-and-away format, the Overwatch League will work to schedule matchups that will benefit all the players, a league source said this week.

The unnamed franchise is not the first esports team in the area. NRG Esports, which was started by Sacramento Kings co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov, is sponsored by Events DC, in an effort to entertain a younger crowd in the Washington area. Esports fans tend to fall into a millennial demographic.

Events DC is also a sponsor for the new Baltimore/Washington Overwatch team.

Logos, uniforms, a name and a roster for the Overwatch expansion will likely be unveiled within a few weeks to a month.

kfominykh@baltsun.com

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