What Is Franchising in Esports? From Overwatch to Valorant

Franchising in esports represents a transformative shift in the industry, marked by the initiation of the Overwatch League by Activision Blizzard in 2016. This model, characterized by exclusivity and long-term commitment, has reshaped how esports organizations operate and profit.

Origins of Esports Franchising

The Overwatch League’s announcement in 2016 was a pivotal moment for esports franchising. It demanded an unprecedented initial buy-in cost of over $10 million, signifying a major financial commitment from participating organizations. This move set a new standard for investment in esports leagues.

Expansion into Other Titles

The Call of Duty League, introduced in 2020, continued this trend. Its success was partly due to the annual release of new game titles, keeping the league fresh and engaging for both players and viewers.

Core Principles of Esports Franchising

Esports franchising is built on exclusivity. This model ensures long-term commitment from organizations, enhancing the stability and production quality of leagues.

Financial Stability and Job Security

A key benefit is the provision of minimum salaries and job security for professionals. This stability attracts higher caliber talent and fosters a more professional environment.

Enhanced Media Rights and Advertising

Media rights and advertising opportunities are lucrative aspects of franchising. These rights offer significant revenue streams for event organizers, contributing to the overall growth of the industry.

Challenges and Risks

Exclusivity can lead to scheduling gaps and restrict third-party content creators, potentially limiting the reach and diversity of esports content.

High Investment with Uncertain Returns

Organizations face substantial financial demands, with no guarantee of remuneration. This risk is exacerbated by the fast-paced nature of the esports industry and the potential for games to become obsolete.

Success Stories and Potential

1. League of Legends: A Model of Sustainability

League of Legends in Esports

League of Legends stands as a successful example, focusing on exclusivity and sustainability. Its franchising model has contributed to its global popularity and financial success.

2. VALORANT’s Unique Approach

VALORANT introduced an innovative partner program, deviating from traditional buy-in models. This approach offers a different perspective on how franchising can be structured in esports.

3. The Untapped Potential of Rocket League

Rocket League World Championship

Rocket League, with its growing popularity, is seen as having significant potential for franchising. However, an official announcement is yet to be made.


Growth of Mobile Esports

Mobile eSports

Mobile gaming is substantially driving the expansion of esports. The accessibility and ease of playing mobile games have broadened the audience base, leading to more frequent mobile esports tournaments with prize pools comparable to those of console and PC tournaments.

This trend is evident in the massive participation and audience growth in mobile esports, as seen in popular titles like PUBG Mobile, Clash of Clans, and Brawl Stars.

The Integration of Esports in the Asian Games

2023 marked a significant milestone for esports with its official entry into the Asian Games as a competitive event. This integration showcases the growing recognition of esports on an international level and emphasizes its cultural significance across various Asian countries.

The anticipation for further internationalization of esports events is high, with netizens recognizing the role of such events in promoting cultural exchanges and boosting international tourism.

The Emergence of AI and VR in Esports

VR eSports Virtual Arena

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to revolutionize esports, potentially being used for AI-powered training tools, coaching systems, and creating more dynamic in-game environments. Virtual Reality (VR) esports experiences also represent an exciting frontier for the industry​​.

The Blurring Lines Between Traditional Sports and Esports

The integration of esports with traditional sports is increasingly evident. For example, the NBA’s launch of the NBA 2K League highlights how traditional sports organizations are embracing esports, signaling a convergence of these two worlds

The Uncertain Future

Future of VR Franchising

The future of esports franchising remains a topic of debate. While some see it as a pathway to continuous expansion, others question its long-term viability given the rapidly evolving nature of the industry.

Challenges and Adaptations

The esports industry faces challenges in monetizing online broadcasts. The dominance of platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming affects viewership numbers and revenue generation from exclusive broadcast deals. The industry needs to find a balance to ensure financial sustainability and audience engagement​​.


How does esports franchising impact the development of new games?

Franchising often focuses on established, popular games, which can lead to less attention and resources for developing new titles. However, the success of franchised leagues can also inspire innovation and investment in new game development.

What are the environmental considerations of esports franchising?

The environmental impact of esports, including franchising, includes energy consumption of gaming devices, travel for international events, and the carbon footprint of large-scale events. Some organizations are adopting sustainable practices to mitigate these impacts.

How does franchising influence the grassroots level of esports?

Franchising can overshadow grassroots esports by concentrating resources and attention on professional levels. However, some franchised leagues invest in developing grassroots scenes to foster new talent and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Are there educational or academic programs related to esports franchising?

Yes, some universities and colleges now offer courses and degrees in esports management, focusing on aspects like franchising, marketing, and event organization, reflecting the growing professionalization of the field.

How does franchising affect the global distribution of esports events?

Franchising can centralize major events in certain regions, often where the franchised leagues are based. This can create disparities in global event distribution, although some leagues are working towards more global inclusivity.

How do player unions and associations fit into the franchising model?

Player unions and associations play a crucial role in advocating for players’ rights and interests within the franchising model. They can negotiate for better contracts, working conditions, and a share in revenue generated by franchised leagues.

What role do governments play in esports franchising?

Governments can influence esports franchising through regulation, funding, and support for infrastructure development. They can also help in legitimizing esports as a sport and fostering a conducive environment for its growth.

How do merchandising and licensing work in esports franchising?

Merchandising and licensing are significant revenue streams in esports franchising. Teams and leagues create branded merchandise, and licensing agreements can include everything from apparel to video game skins and accessories.

What challenges do esports franchises face in maintaining fan engagement?

Esports franchises must continuously innovate in content creation and fan interaction to maintain engagement, especially during off-seasons or when transitioning between game titles.


Esports franchising has undeniably transformed the landscape of competitive gaming. It offers a structured, professional, and financially rewarding environment for players and organizations. However, it also brings challenges and risks that must be carefully managed. As the industry continues to evolve, the success of the franchising model will be a critical factor in the growth and sustainability of esports.