After two seasons in Burbank, California, the Overwatch League has finally achieved its goal of scattering teams across the globe to their various home cities. Well, mostly. Paris Eternal, somewhat conspicuously, is operating out of New Jersey. New Jersey, in case you’re from a non-Earth planet, is not in France.
A couple weeks before the inaugural matches of OWL season three, which kicked off in New York and Dallas this past weekend, the Washington Post reported that Paris Eternal would be setting up shop in New Jersey instead of in Paris. Over the weekend, Blizzard and Paris Eternal confirmed this to Kotaku, with OWL vice president Jon Spector saying that the team will be “practicing from and based mostly in New Jersey this year.” Paris Eternal coach Hee-won “Rush” Yun explained that the decision was largely born of practice-related concerns.
“Living in New Jersey is good because we get to practice against a lot of North American teams,” Yun told Kotaku during a post-match interview at season three’s debut event in New York. “If we go back to Paris, there’s a lot of limitations to the teams we can face because of ping issues.”
Overwatch League teams regularly scrimmage against each other, and Paris could quickly fall behind the curve if it was isolated due to connection speed issues. This also reduces potential jet lag-related issues stemming from away games against other teams, many of which are based in North America. However, the team will still be playing its home games in Paris.
“From the league’s perspective, our focus is really on these events and the ability to bring thousands of fans together to celebrate their favorite players and teams in those cities,” said Spector. “Back to the Paris example, they’re planning three events this year. Three great weekends in Paris for thousands of fans.”
Paris Eternal has a vested interest in putting on these events in the city responsible for its namesake, if not its lodgings. Overwatch League teams have precious few avenues to turn a profit. While traditional sports teams pull in big bucks from broadcasts and government-subsidized stadiums, OWL teams make far less from the former and, so far, have yet to successfully achieve anything on the scale of the latter. This season, for example, most teams are renting venues as needed, rather than playing out of their own stadiums. For the time being, Overwatch League teams can only really count on merchandise sales and brand deals, both of which make vastly less sense without the guarantee of local events and a dedicated local fan base (and even then, those types of business models remain questionable in the broader context of esports). Paris Eternal, then, has a big incentive to create some kind of presence in Paris, even if it’s not based there yet.
The question is whether or not this will hurt the team in the long run. With Overwatch League finally in full swing, teams are scrambling to recoup multi-million dollar investments by building up presences in their cities. Teams like New York Excelsior, who hosted the weekend’s event, have made serious headway on that front not just by playing games, but also by setting up pop-up shops and making appearances alongside other New York sports teams, with whom NYXL is affiliated. It seems to have worked, at least to a degree; over the weekend, NYXL merch sold like savvily-branded hotcakes, and the audience was full of fans who knew the team well enough to chant individual players’ names during big moments. But will any team be able to continue mustering that kind of enthusiasm for the entire season, which lasts until mid-August? That remains to be seen, especially after season two, during which online viewership numbers fell off pretty sharply after the first couple months (even as some suggested that OWL had benefited from artificially inflated viewership numbers). Regardless, with Paris Eternal’s players separated from France by thousands of miles of ocean, the team’s ability to leverage all-important non-game opportunities will likely be limited.
Will Paris Eternal eternally remain outside Paris? As of now, the team does not have concrete plans for next year. When asked if the team will migrate to Paris ahead of season four in 2021, Yun said, “We’re not sure at the moment.”