Branding is important in traditional sports. In esports, the quality of your brand could mean years of success or see your venture close down too quickly. As an industry that prides itself on its global outreach, having a team brand that can connect with a 12-year-old boy in Arkansas the same as it can with an adult woman in Sao Paolo is crucial.
And even though Blizzard's biggest esports venture to date, the Overwatch League, is going the traditional sports route with tying franchises to cities, branding is still as important. As a promoted global league with only four countries represented in 11 different cities across the world for the inaugural season, a large majority of the audience won't have a horse in the race come opening day in January. If you're from Cleveland, Toronto, or anywhere outside of the United States that isn't Seoul, Shanghai, or London, picking your Overwatch League team might come down to which club's brand does the best job capturing your attention.
As someone who loves all sports brands and finding the wackiest ones around the world (Did you know there is a minor league baseball team called the Modesto Nuts?) I'm making it my job to put these Overwatch League franchises to the task. Which ones did a top-notch job, which teams graduated by the skin of their team, and which franchises should ask for their money back from the agency they hired to create their brand?
To make this as scientific as possible, I will rate each team's brand on the same criteria to get a final score with a maximum score of 70.
Categories and methodology:
Team name (out of 20 points) -- It all starts with a good team name. If you fail here, it's almost impossible to make a comeback.
Logo (out of 20) -- With every good team name comes a good logo. A poor team name can sometimes be saved by a strong logo, but that's uncommon.
Promotion (out of 10) -- How is the team doing with their promotional videos and images? Are they drawing in new fans with interesting content before the games begin?
Merchandise (out of 10) -- Does the team uniform and other merchandise (including in-game skins) look good? Would anyone buy their merchandise and actually wear it out in public unironically?
The first date test (out of 10) -- You're on a first date with someone you've never hung out with before. During the date, you tell them "I'm a fan of the ..." and watch for their reaction. If telling them the team you support makes you want to die of embarrassment, that's not a good sign.
With the unscientific and definitely arbitrary categories out of the way, let's see which Overwatch League brand is truly the wor... er, best.
Team name: We're starting out with an easy one. The Houston Outlaws is a good sounding team name. It fits with other team names in Texas, easy for newcomers to remember, and rolls off the tongue well. The only drawback here is that there is no easy three-syllable chant for the crowd to annoy people with, but I'm sure they'll come up with something. (18 points)
Logo: The Outlaws knocked it out of the park with its combination of team and logo. The neon green is a bit offputting at first, but it ties in with OpTic Gaming, the organization that owns the team, and the massive fanbase from the already established brand will have an easy time feeling a connection between the new and old brand. The guns crafting the head of the longhorn is a great visual, and the bright green star above it polishes off a logo that could go toe-to-toe with some of the better traditional sports logos of today. (19 points)
Promotion: As with the first two categories, the Outlaws once again did well in the promotion category. The team already has a slew of videos, and the quality and production are solid. The team's introduction video is nothing mindblowing, but when compared to some other teams in the league, the Outlaws might as well have created high art. (8 points)
Merchandise: Congratulations to the Outlaws for securing one of the coveted black home uniforms in the league. While the team name written on the chest of the jersey is pretty generic, the overall design isn't bad. The team hat with the longhorn logo is something that won't get you weird looks on the street, and the black/green color scheme surprisingly works in-game for the team's skins. (8 points)
First date test: "Cool." If they're not a sports fan, they'll probably think you're talking about an NFL team. If they are a sports fan, they'll probably think it's a team from a sport they don't know of. No awkwardness. Outlaws pass the test with flying colors. (10 points)
Overall Score: 63 out of 70
San Francisco Shock
Team name: The Shock. Really? I mean, it's not the worst name in the league, but it doesn't really inspire much confidence. So California has earthquakes, that's cool, I guess, and this team is going, to ... shock the world or something? I'm trying to wrap my head around it, and yet I can't get excited about a team called the San Francisco Shock. (6 points)
Logo: It's bland. It's not gaudy which is a good thing, though, like the name, it doesn't jump out at you in a positive way. It's the most minimalist of all the logos, and if that's your kind of thing, more power to you. For me, it just leaves me shrugging my shoulders. (5 points)
Promotion: Here we go! Finally, some good things about the Shock. The team's intro with celebrity athletes like Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Strahan is a bit dorky, but the video itself has nice production value and the inclusion of those names does bring a sense of star power behind the brand. The team has also been active on social media and has videos out where you can learn more about the players. Although the name and logo are bland, the promotion for the Shock has been one of the best so far in the league. (9 points)
Merchandise: We'll get into this later when I bring up the Philadelphia Fusion, but how did Blizzard allow two teams to have their main colors be orange? I know they're different shades of orange -- San Francisco a darker orange compared to Philly's more tangerine shade -- but this predicament isn't good for either team. It's like going to the school dance wearing the same outfit as the kid who just walked in before you. Standing out when every franchise is new is important, and having a distinctive color is important, which neither the Shock nor Fusion has. The non-tangerine orange jersey is all right, and the rest of the merchandise, like most of the brand, is unremarkable. (3 points)
First date test: "The ... what? The San Francisco shop?" They look at you confused. You try to explain what a "San Francisco Shock" is, and they're motioning for the waiter to bring the check before you can explain the difference between the Shock's orange and the Fusion's tangerine color schemes. (2 points)
Overall Score: 25 out of 70
Team name: Is it a generic team name? Sure. Does it work? Definitely. Dragons are a part of Chinese culture, and it's a simple name that works and is easily understandable regardless of where you live. When compared to other teams in the Overwatch League, Shanghai's decision to go the easy route has shown to be one of the smartest decisions the franchise could make. (17 points)
Logo: Again, the Dragons did not invent the wheel here, but simplicity works. The sleek red and black color scheme are pleasing to the eye, and the dragon forming the "S" to represent Shanghai is a great primary logo. Out of all the teams in the league, this is my favorite logo. It's a home run. Kids who only play Overwatch casually on Xbox are going to become a fan of this team just because of how appealing the logo is, and that's what a great logo is all about. (20 points)
Promotion: The Dragons are obviously marketing to a different crowd than most of the teams in the league -- for one, unless you have a VPN you can't even use Twitter in China -- and that's OK. The team's introduction video is quintessential Asian esports: players in heavy makeup doing over-the-top poses while generic dubstep plays in the background. The production value is high, so although it's cheesy, I'm sure it hits its mark for a lot of people. (7 points)
Merchandise: Yeesh, the Dragons drew the short straw on the uniform color scheme. A black home jersey with red and yellow trim would have looked amazing. Instead, the team got a red home jersey with yellow being the second most prominent color. The skins are good and the hat with the primary logo will sell, but the team's awkward jersey, which I'd say is the most important piece of merch, brings down the overall rating in this category. (5 points)
First date test: "Oh wow, I love them! They're my favorite indie band at the moment." Either your date will figure the Dragons are some sort of rock band or a sports team, so no real awkwardness here. An easy passing grade on this one. (10 points)
Overall Score: 59 out of 70
Los Angeles Gladiators
Team name: I don't hate it. I dislike some of these team names, so having a team name that doesn't make me want to ask "Why?" makes this a pretty good team name. Gladiators are cool. "Gladiator" with Russell Crowe was a good movie. I'm on board with it. (15 points)
Logo: It's as if the Kansas State Wildcats and the Thundercats logos had a child. I can get behind this. (18 points)
Promotion: The team has only one video up on its Youtube channel, an introduction short, and it's a good one. It's shot well and the players are set up to look cool without being forced to do anything to make anyone cringe. The only thing keeping it from a perfect intro video is not having title cards for new viewers to put names and IDs to the players they're seeing. Other than that, the Gladiators did an excellent job making the team and city look like something you'd want to support. (9 points)
Merchandise: Remember how I mentioned having a differing color can help you stand out from the pack? No team is a bigger winner with that than the Gladiators. The team's purple aesthetic really makes it stand out above every other team in the league. While almost half the league is trying to use blue in some way in their color scheme, and Philadelphia and San Francisco are in the Great Orange War of 2018, the purple of the Gladiators is all its own, and it works in spades. (10 points)
First date test: "They're my favorite indie band right now next to the Shanghai Dragons!" As with the Outlaws and Gladiators, the plural name makes it easy to bring up on a first date. No weird looks. No falling backward in your chair and elbowing the poor couple behind you because you're so embarrassed about your fandom. This is the last plural team name on the board though, so get ready for the good ones coming up in this category. (10 points)
Overall Score: 62 out of 70
Editor's note: Part 2 coming Sunday.