Overwatch League trading cards? Blizzard enters multi-year deal with Upper Deck

Upper Deck

Overwatch League trading cards? Blizzard enters multi-year deal with Upper Deck

Overwatch League fans will soon be able to begin collecting cards of their favorite players following the announcement of a multi-year collectibles licensing deal between Activision Blizzard and Upper Deck.

Multi-million dollar brand deals, jersey sales, and geolocalized teams are just a few of the many ways that Activision Blizzard is mirroring elements of traditional sports with the Overwatch League.

With this trend in mind, it isn’t too surprising to see the Overwatch League expand into the realm of collectible trading cards as a natural transition.

The partnership with Upper Deck is the first of its kind in the esports industry and will not only see the production of trading cards but also other pieces of memorabilia, including is not limited to stickers, prints, and posters among other items for the franchised league.

In the announcement, Jason Masherah, President of Upper Deck, stated:

“We are very excited to collaborate with the Overwatch League for our first esports deal and to deliver new and innovative products to Overwatch League fans everywhere. This is a great way to celebrate Upper Deck’s 30th anniversary, and we look forward to working with the talented team at Activision Blizzard for many years to come.”

When will they be available?

While many players have come and gone since the start of the Overwatch League in 2018, fans will be pleased to know that the first set to be released on June 19 will feature players and teams from the inaugural season in addition to those currently competing in Season 2. To add some extra incentive for pack sales and satiate the desires of dedicated collectors, each pack will also have the potential to include "rare cards" featuring player autographs.

In the meantime, fans have already begun to create their own versions of player trading cards as we all await the launch date of the first set.

“Collaborating with Upper Deck allows the Overwatch League to offer fans everywhere the opportunity to collect and trade exclusive cards and collectibles — featuring their favorite teams and players — that can be cherished for years to come," commented Daniel Siegel, Head of Esports Licensing at Blizzard Entertainment. "This is an awesome milestone for our companies, and for esports as a whole."

Upper Deck is just the latest company to join a growing list of Overwatch League partners which include major mainstream brands such as the league's official beer sponsor, Bud Light, OMEN by HP, Intel, T-Mobile, Coca-Cola, Toyota, and State Farm.

Philadelphia Fusion Marketing Specialist Evan Frasca on evolution of gaming, future of esports — Interview Part 2

Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Philadelphia Fusion Marketing Specialist Evan Frasca on evolution of gaming, future of esports — Interview Part 2

The following is Part 2 of a two-part interview with Evan Frasca, Marketing Specialist for the Philadelphia Fusion. In case you haven’t checked out Part 1, you can give it a read here.

JY: Now, gaming is evolving at a rapid pace. Where do you think we’ll end up eventually? Will we see something like Ready Player One?

EF: One thing people gloss over is the fact that while esports is huge and it’s still growing, it’s still in the early stages of its life cycle. Obviously, regulation is a huge pillar that I think people tend not to think about and how that’s going to end up happening whether the trend of franchise leagues continues to be the future or not.

What I would love to see is more availability in terms of esports frameworks. Right now, there’s a path being crafted for how you become a professional gamer. What I think will be interesting is how more normalized approaches to that start to appear.

Co-ops or internships that allow you to develop professional skills relating to being a competitive gamer.

Philadelphia Fusion Marketing Specialist Evan Frasca (Photo credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment)

JY: Things like going to school for statistical analytics and then branch off as a specialist in MOBA analytics or FPS analytics?

EF: All kinds of diversification like that. That’s probably the first example most people will think of in terms of tying a traditional education into gaming.

Even more casual than that, though, it could be more specific things that you could take to become a pro. Classes that help augment a player’s perspective on being a pro. All of that is super interesting to me.

JY: With how quick gaming and culture evolves, and we see that reflected in what’s popular in games, is that good or bad for the industry and how does it affect you in terms of building the brand and engagement?

EF: I think it’s definitely a good thing. There are changes that are happening in terms of the culture that may not be as favorable as others — that being said, what I love about what’s happening currently is we're kind of at the point where much of traditional audiences are absorbing it at the same time and at an accelerated rate.

People are experiencing what it’s like to blend aspects of pop culture with gaming and esports at a really fast rate. Music, fashion, food, and anime. All of the changes are really hard to take in as they come because they’re so massive, but the really cool thing is that they’re all happening at once.

JY: A couple of questions about the World Health Organization gaming disorder classification. As kids are more and more influenced by pro players and streamers, how do we draw that line between passion and obsession?

EF: It is exactly as you said. Drawing that line and finding the balance. It is exceptionally important for parents to identify digital trends that their kids are becoming aware of. Whether it’s gaming, Snapchat, or Tic Tok.

I’m not saying parents need to moderate and take charge of every single thing, but when you identify something your kids are passionate about, that’s when you need to step in and ask: How do we harness this passion? How do create a healthy environment to develop this passion? The parents need to be able to take a moment and ask why their kid loves this or that. They need to engage with them and understand and learn about it. That will shape the path for them to keep their kids safe and healthy.

JY: That speaks a lot to the responsibility of a parent, but what about players, teams, and organizations? Do they have a responsibility to be a good role model?

EF: Absolutely. For the Fusion, we pride ourselves on being a super diverse team. A team that is available for anyone of any given background to resonate with.

When it comes down to expressing priorities around mental health or physical health — there was an initiative on Twitter about spreading mental health awareness. It takes two seconds for us to write that tweet and put out that hashtag. That might not mean anything to a typical viewer, but to someone who is experiencing issues like that it can really resonate with them.

Going back to the gaming disorder, which obviously there’s a massive buzz around that, for me, I would not go out of my way to say that’s a legitimate disorder or something that you need to be careful of. What you do need to be careful of is letting your child or family take something and run with it to the point that you can’t control or be there for them anymore.

As long as the people in your family care about you and care to learn about the things you love, that’s what we want to spread as a team. We want to say: these kids are doing this and your kids can, too. It’s up to you and the teams to set the standard for which you can follow that path.

JY: Any final thoughts for readers and Fusion fans out there?

EF: Thanks to our sponsors and our amazing fans.  We’re really excited for the second half of the season and really excited for the grand finals, and we’re even more excited to get to Philly real soon.

Philadelphia Fusion Marketing Specialist Evan Frasca on esports brand development — interview part 1

Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Philadelphia Fusion Marketing Specialist Evan Frasca on esports brand development — interview part 1

The Philadelphia Fusion has been able to stand out amongst the other 19 teams in the Overwatch League through careful branding efforts. One man leading that effort is Evan Frasca, Marketing Specialist with the Philadelphia Fusion. His job revolves around creating consumer-facing experiences in digital marketing and media. In layman's terms, anything from events, to merchandise, to social media.

At the 2019 Inven Global Esports Conference, I had the chance to sit down with Evan to further discuss what teams and individuals need to do in order to stand out, the pace of which gaming evolves, and his thoughts on what the World Health Organization gaming disorder classification means.

Evan Frasca, Marketing Specialist of the Philadelphia Fusion. Photo credit: PHL Fusion

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Jeff Yabumoto: Part of the evolution of gaming is the branding on the team and personal side. How do you differentiate yourself on the team side when you have 19 other teams in the exact same space trying to do the same thing?

Evan Frasca: Honestly, whenever I get a question like this about how we differentiate, it really goes back to your fan base. One of the best things teams have to their advantage is their given fan base. That’s both growable and already existing.

You have to account for how to grow that fan base and how to cater to that fan base, but at the end of the day, understanding your fan base is what allows you to differentiate. You’re creating a situation where you create a space that your fans can gravitate towards things they like and reject things they don’t like.

Gritty, the official mascot for the NHL Philadelphia Flyers, made a special appearance at the Overwatch League. Photo credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

For us, we try to focus on harnessing the nature of a Philly native: rowdy, loud, colorful, and proud. Really just gritty, and that’s not a pun. They’re all embedded in the Philly scene and fan base. It’s something we’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with and creating new experiences for them to enjoy.

JY: How do you do that when you’re not in the actual city?

EF: For us, it revolves around having a voice and a tone. Lindsey, our social media manager, has created one of the most reputable voices in social media in terms of the Overwatch League solely through identifying the things I’m talking about.

It’s hard because, while we’re looking forward to taking advantage of our local space and market when we geolocate, it’s been a really fun challenge. Just staying true to the Philly brand and harnessing as much of the hometown feel as we can and giving that to the fans in LA.

JY: As far as engaging with fans and distinguishing yourselves, will it become more important for organizations to pick up personalities instead of the most skilled player?

EF: I definitely think there are huge advantages to having both top-level pros known for solely for their gameplay while there are a lot of benefits to having a top-level influencer with a huge following.

It is absolutely a solid approach, in terms of balance, but as an org, specifically a team in esports and gaming, you need to evaluate what your frameworks are that you’re trying to push forward and grow.

If you’re not trying to be a team that revolves around pushing out content, pushing out more lifestyle content, and you want to be the team that focuses on the top team, signing a prospective influencer doesn’t appeal as much.

Photo credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Now if you’re a team like 100 Thieves, that’s a completely different story. When you have someone with a massive audience able to promote all these different revenue streams that you’re proud of that might not be directly aligned with gaming, that’s an argument for a more influencer related approach.

We want to continue to pride ourselves on Overwatch and the influencer space is really weird. We’re proud to have Kabaji and Emongg, who are two of the most viewed streamers in the Overwatch vertical. That’s something that we really wanted to accomplish when the game was getting popular and the league was first developing.

We asked ourselves what goes on outside the Overwatch League? How do you continue growing your presence and establish a foothold? They are fantastic at that and harnessed the elements of a pro player and an influencer. They continue to evolve their game.

Identifying opportunities like that is what allows teams to differentiate the best.

JY: What about for solo players and streamers who are up against a much larger scale of competition?

EF: It’s great that you ask this. One of the things we pride ourselves on at the Philadelphia Fusion is creating futures for our players and for our staff. We want to give them a future in esports and competitive gaming.

It’s hard to differentiate yourself when everyone is playing a lot of the same high viewership games. Everyone brands themselves in similar ways.

For us, it’s about making sure we stay communicative with our players and learning what they want to push about themselves outside of Overwatch. A lot of the times those goals intersect with the goals of the Fusion.

Elk loves doing analytic content, that’s no secret. Why would we not enable him? Stuff like that is what we tend to pride ourselves on and help our players with.

If you enjoyed this interview, keep an eye out for Part 2. where we discuss the evolution of esports and the potential future of this emerging industry.