Anaheim, Calif. — The first experiment is over, and Overwatch League Director of Marketing Kristin Connelly has a little breathing room.
Connelly helped guide Overwatch League’s inaugural season to fruition. Now, it’s time for her to reflect on what did work, what didn’t work, and what work there is to do for Season 2.
“Everything we did was from scratch,” Connelly told The Daily Walkthrough at BlizzCon 2018. “Our fans … [They] don’t know what they’re getting themselves into, if you will. To launch not only one brand of the Overwatch League, but 12 other brands with 13 new brands from scratch? The fans kind of [had to] find their way through that: What team they wanted to root for, how often they were coming to Blizzard Arena. We weren’t sure what that model would entail.”
Iteration is a big part of Season 2. Connelly is looking for the best ways to improve upon the League before the season begins Feb. 14. One iteration is updated timing for matches. A common complaint from European fans was that Season 1’s format was unfriendly to non-North American viewers. Aggrieved threads on Reddit and the forums lamented matches that began as late as 11 p.m. CET and wrapped up after 5:00 a.m. It wasn’t just viewers who were struggling, either. Players like Hwang “EFFECT” Hyeon, Kim “Pine” Do-hyeon and Timo “Taimou” Kettunen stumbled under Season 1’s intense schedule.
“The professional conclusion was that most of those symptoms stemmed from continuous stress,” former Florida Mayhem coach Vytis “Mineral” Lasaitis told Dot Esports’ Nicole Carpenter in May.
Add eight new teams on top of these problems and scheduling is an issue the League can’t ignore.
“When we built out the schedule from scratch without fully understanding how things would play out, we didn’t know how fans would watch, live versus VOD (video on demand) and what they would want to engage with,” she said. “So, those are changes we’re making for next season to ensure that content is readily available for fans.”
Connelly’s team is focusing on “shorter form” content so fans will have access to more digestible formats like the recently launched OWL60. Season 2 includes “a more flexible schedule” with teams playing anywhere from zero to two matches a week as opposed to two to three a week. The All-Star event is being moved to the middle of the regular season to give players additional break time. “We are testing things and learning and changing,” she stressed to TheDW.
Connelly comes from a 12-year tenure in sports marketing. She has worked with the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets. The chance to “launch the first ever global, city-based esports sports league” is what drew her away from her seven and a half years with the Jets.
The Signing Wall displayed in her office acts as a constant reminder of a passionate fan base which initially “surprised” her by driving “from around the country to attend” the opening week of Season 1.
It’s also a reminder that Overwatch League’s marketing approach must be tailored to its international profile.
“You can’t just localize, you need to be able to fully regionalize and create original content in the different regions,” Connelly explained. “Now that we have four teams in China, doubling down and creating even more original content for the Chinese audience is extremely important. … We’re not just developing content and marketing out of HQ in North America … You’re seeing things on other platform[s] around the world. That’s where you are as a fan, and it’s the type of content that you want to see.”
Growing Overwatch League’s audience is just as important as retaining it. Connelly hopes improvements like the Overwatch World Cup Viewer can entice Overwatch players to become Overwatch League viewers.
They want to create “more content that is a entertainment in nature,” which will see an expansion of Battle.net Overwatch home screen content like “Top Five Plays” and collaboration with Overwatch League teams.
Another consideration is whether the offseason is too long.
Connelly deferred to the “operations team” on that, but did say “it’s possible” there could be a change in offseason duration once they “get through the 2019 season.”
She’s using Overwatch League’s multi-year broadcast deal with ESPN, Disney XD and ABC to try and make it “more relevant in the mainstream audience.” Overwatch’s educational content, or “edutainment,” will be emphasized on platforms with younger viewers like Disney XD. The educational content is not, however, “going to be dumbed down at all where it’s gonna seem like it’s not informational. It’s going to feel informational for anyone at any level.”
Overwatch League Senior PR Manager Mark Van Lommel chimed in to note they want to work “with everybody in traditional mainstream press because they’re the ones who are potentially investors.” National broadcasts reach the parents, he said, and “they may have kids who are interested. They can understand these esports better because they’re seeing it explained via a channel that they’re consuming and that is catered for them.”
Unlike Connelly’s prior world of football where parents tend to introduce their children to the game and their favorite team, she wants “family-friendly” and “inclusive” content on channels like Disney XD to encourage parents to take their kids to an Overwatch League game.
“We know that 13, 15 year olds can’t make their own decisions, can’t even drive themselves to our events. So, ensuring their parents feel like it’s something special to partake in is extremely important,” Connelly said. Overwatch also wants to move into “mainstream entertainment pop culture,” Van Lommel told TheDW. Highlighting professional player fashion is another avenue he believes will resonate with younger current and potential viewers.
As for Connelly herself, she described her experience thus far as “incredible.”
“What drew me here is to do something that’s never truly been done before,” she told TheDW. “It’s just incredible. For me as a marketer, the Overwatch League is that dream for marketing to fans that are digital-native, social-first, completely, truly global [and] in their 20s. We’re changing the paradigm of entertainment as we know it for the future.”