November 5, 2018 at 1:56 am #17053
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Their characters’ exploits inside Overwatch, the wildly popular multiplayer game not yet 2 years old, flicker above their heads on an enormous high-definition screen. Hundreds of mostly millennial fans in the renamed, sold-out Blizzard Arena put down their Doritos and roar for the combat between these six-player teams, eventually rising in ecstasy when the Dallas Fuel earn an unexpected point against the powerhouse Seoul Dynasty.
Here’s the new Johnny. He plays video games for a minimum $50,000 salary, health benefits, a retirement savings plan and a chunk of $3.5 million in prize money.
Esports history was made Wednesday night with the debut of the Overwatch League, the first attempt to present elite computer gaming within a traditional North American sports structure comparable to the NBA or NFL. The league’s 12 franchises represent cities from Shanghai to London, and they build teamwork and stress player development while competing on a weekly schedule stretching into summer.
If the esports industry is still in its adolescence, this well-funded venture is a significant milestone in its maturation. The Overwatch League is about to find out whether fans will grow along with it.
”It’s a new frontier,” said Ari Segal, the president and chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Valiant. ”It is the biggest, boldest bet in sports and entertainment maybe since the NFL and AFL merged. Maybe since baseball introduced the designated hitter. I don’t even know what it stacks up against, because it is so different.”
Segal had a career as a hockey executive before he moved into esports last year. He is one of many seasoned professionals from traditional sports and business who couldn’t resist the opportunity to shape the future of professional gaming, which has expanded with all the cohesion of a pipe bomb.
Shortly after Blizzard Entertainment published this hero-based, first-person PC shooter to acclaim in 2016, the game developer announced plans for a league backed by deep-pocketed investors ranging from NFL owners Stan Kroenke and Robert Kraft to current giants of the esports scene.
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”I come from traditional sports, and from the outside, it seemed like esports had grown up as this exciting, massive, organic, somewhat unstructured ecosystem that benefited from that fact, but was also held back by it,” said Pete Vlastelica, the president and CEO of Major League Gaming, which operates the league for Blizzard’s parent company.
”It felt to me a lot like boxing,” added Vlastelica, a former executive at Fox Sports. ”Anybody can create a circuit. Anybody be a trainer. Anybody can sign a fighter. Anybody can win a belt. But what’s the belt? I think boxing suffers from an ambiguity about whether any particular competition means anything, and it felt like that was really similar in esports.”
The Overwatch League aims to end that ambiguity with traditional sports touchstones, and it made sense to the luminaries from sports, tech and business who dominate the list of investors.
Kroenke, the billionaire owner of Arsenal and the Los Angeles Rams, also owns the Los Angeles Gladiators, who plan to be based within the vast entertainment complex around his Inglewood football stadium after it is completed in 2020. The Boston Uprising are owned by Kraft’s investment group [url=http://www.officialredwings.com/authentic-adidas-gustav-nyquist-jersey]Authentic Gustav Nyquist Jersey[/url] , and they might end up based in Foxborough, Massachusetts, to share some training facilities with the New England Patriots.
The San Francisco Shock’s investor group includes Jennifer Lopez, Shaquille O’Neal and Marshawn Lynch. The Philadelphia Fusion are owned by Comcast Spectacor, and the New York Excelsior are the property of a venture capital fund sponsored by the Wilpon family of New York Mets fame.
Many of the Overwatch League’s owners might not be gamers, but they understand the visceral importance of going to a good event. League commissioner Nate Nanzer is confident it will eventually harness income from ticket sales and concessions and other areas that haven’t meant much in esports so far.
”Why do people go to a Dodger game? You go because it’s more fun to sit with 40,000 other fans and cheer for a home run than it is to do it at home,” Nanzer said. ”Video games are so incredibly mainstream right now. It’s such a big part of our fans’ lives. When people play Overwatch, they play a lot of Overwatch. It’s a special moment to go share that with people who have the same passion as you.”
Although the geographical specificity of the teams is an important part of their future business plans, those home cities are largely theoretical at this point.
For this season and the near future, every team will live in the Los Angeles area and play all its matches in Burbank. Nanzer said the logistics of staging the competition around the globe were too enormous to be solved immediately.
That’s not the only geographical dissonance: The Overwatch League’s only ”European” team, the London Spitfire, are owned by an American esports organization, and their roster consists entirely of South Korean players living in Los Angeles.
But the Overwatch League has bought itself time to find its footing. The league has sponsorship deals with blue chip companies including HP and Intel, and the Dallas Fuel wear jersey s No team in the NFL this season allowed fewer points or yards than the Minnesota Vikings, putting them in better position than any of their competitors to prove that old ”defense wins championships” adage to be true.
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”These last few weeks we’ve played really, really well. Defensively, we have a lot of good players. They understand this system and what their responsibility is, and they play very, very hard,” coach Mike Zimmer said. ”They’ve got this little edge on them right now that they don’t want to give an inch.”
Zimmer’s assessment came after the 23-10 victory over Chicago in the final regular-season game, in which the only Bears touchdown came on a trick punt return. Chicago ran 11 plays from the 10-yard line or closer in the fourth quarter and failed to cross the goal line.
The week before that, the Vikings defeated injury-depleted Green Bay 16-0 for their first shutout of the Packers in 46 years. In the game prior to that, they beat Cincinnati 34-7 with the only touchdown by the Bengals coming midway through the fourth quarter against Vikings backups on a 23-yard drive set up by an interception.
Tally that all up, and Minnesota’s starting defense has essentially surrendered a total of three points over the last three games. Even against three non-playoff teams, the average of 200 yards per contest yielded and the cumulative 6-for-40 third-down conversion allowance was quite a stamp to put on the 2017 performance.
”The thing about our defense is we’re very unselfish. At the end of the day, we understand that if we do what we need to do, do our jobs, do what the defense is called, nobody can stop us,” defensive end Brian Robison said. ”We just have to keep that mentality going forward.”
Robison is the longest-tenured player on the team, the only one remaining from 2009 when Brett Favre’s age-40 renaissance carried the Vikings to the NFC championship game. The defense was stout in that game at New Orleans, an overtime loss to the Saints [url=http://www.officialducks.com/authentic-adidas-blake-mclaughlin-jersey]Authentic Blake McLaughlin Jersey[/url] , but that was Favre’s team. The 1998 and 2000 teams that also reached the NFC title game were about Randy Moss and Cris Carter and those record-setting passing attacks. Even the upstart 1987 squad that survived the strike and sneaked into the playoffs scored 80 points over the first two postseason games to reach the NFC championship.
The Vikings would not have finished 13-3 and earned a first-round bye without a productive offense. Case Keenum came out of backup-quarterback obscurity to finish seventh in the NFL with a 98.3 passer rating. Adam Thielen was named a second team All-Pro wide receiver. The Vikings finished seventh in the league in rushing. The identity and strength of this team, though, is unmistakably on the other side of the ball.
The Vikings were second in the league in both rushing and passing yards allowed, so there’s not one way to attack them that’s better than another. Defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes were all Pro Bowl picks. Safety Harrison Smith was widely considered one of the biggest snubs, having been given the highest performance grade for any player at any position in the NFL this season by the analytics website Pro Football Focus.
”I just think it’s the lack of egos. Everybody wants everybody else to succeed. Nobody cares to be the man,” Barr said. ”We all play together.”
Zimmer’s scheme is built up front around gap control to stop the run and a synchronized pass rush to pressure the quarterback, rather than giving Griffen or defensive end Danielle Hunter a free-range assignment to chase sacks. Barr and linebacker Eric Kendricks have the side-to-side quickness to be able to limit passing yardage to the running backs from and sprint through the ”A” gaps on either side of the center on a blitz. Rhodes and cornerback Trae Waynes are sound tacklers, usually effective in physical press coverage. Rhodes spent so much time locking up opposing star receivers that he didn’t see many passes come his way. Then there’s Smith, who can roam in zone coverage for an interception or a big hit, line up in the slot against a tight end or execute a blitz off the edge.
Disguise is a big part of the success, too, with Zimmer’s ability to call a game that keeps the other team uncomfortable about where the rush will come from or how the coverage will be mixed up.
”They’re fun to watch,” said Thielen, who has a field-level view when he’s on the sideline. ”The way they fly around. The way that they get to the ball when it seems the team has an easy first down and, boom, they’re right there closing the gap and stopping them short.”
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