Flyers

Comcast Spectacor adds Philadelphia to Overwatch League

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Comcast Spectacor adds Philadelphia to Overwatch League

Comcast Spectacor is bringing an Overwatch League team to Philadelphia.

Making the move into the esports space from its sports management roots, Flyers owner, Comcast Spectacor, has bought into Blizzard Entertainment’s upcoming Overwatch League. 

“Comcast Spectacor is thrilled to play a central role in the Overwatch League’s inaugural season and energize the growing esports community in Philadelphia and beyond,” Dave Scott, president and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, said.  

Joining the budding esports league for a reported $20 million, the team will represent Philadelphia when the inaugural campaign begins a full season on Jan. 10, 2018. Comcast Spectacor and Philadelphia joins Team Envy and their investor, Hersh Interactive Group in Dallas and OpTic Gaming in Houston as the final three teams to join the 12 team league.

The investment is Comcast Spectacor’s first dive into esports, joining Robert Kraft (Boston), Jeff Wilpon (New York), Kroenke Sports & Entertainment Group (Los Angeles), Neil Leibman (Houston), Andy Miller (San Francisco) and more, as Overwatch League owners. Other locations featured in the league will include London, England, Seoul, South Korea and Shanghai, China.

“An esports franchise is a great addition to our portfolio of sports and entertainment assets," Scott said. "We believe that Overwatch League is uniquely positioned to succeed.” 

The investment into esports rivals the Sixers’ ownership group, which acquired esports teams, Team Dignitas and Team Apex, in 2016. Nearly identical to the Overwatch League setup, the Sixers bought into the NBA-run NBA 2K League, which is set to begin in its inaugural season in spring of 2018.

Similar to any of the five major U.S. sports leagues, Overwatch League will be powered by owners that will recruit, build and fund a roster of players to compete in a scheduled season. And like any expansion franchise, Comcast Spectacor will create a new team, including roster and brand.

What makes Overwatch League different from most esports competitions is its geo-based foundation. Most esports leagues and tournaments feature club teams, like Sixers-owned Team Dignitas, which are labeled more by country than city or state. With Overwatch League, Philadelphia will be represented by the Comcast Spectacor franchise and will face off against other cities.

But while Philadelphia will act as home to the team, the inaugural season will take place solely in Los Angeles at the newly minted Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, the converted Burbank Studios that formerly played host to the Tonight Show. Eventually, the players are expected to live and practice in their host city.

Overwatch is a popular multi-platform Blizzard Entertainment first-person shooter that surpassed the 30 million player milestone earlier this year. Matches pit six human players against six human players with an objective to attack and defend.

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.