Feb 6, 2020

Axios Sports

๐Ÿ‘‹ Good morning! It's been a big week here at Axios. In addition to launching a redesign of Axios.com, we're also testing out our first-ever mobile app (yup, get excited).

Today's word count: 1,569 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: ๐ŸŽฎ A new era for esports

Illustration: Aรฏda Amer/Axios

Over its first two seasons, the Overwatch League's city-based esports franchises played their matches in a designated arena in L.A. This year, the league goes local, with all 20 teams hosting competitions in their home cities.

Why it matters: This home-and-away format represents a giant leap in the maturation of an esports league that eventually wants to look like the NFL, except on an international scale, according to Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, which developed the game and operates the league.

Yes, but: That giant leap comes with the very real risk that franchises will fail to integrate into the fabric of their home cities and struggle to develop loyal fans and business partners.

How it works: The 2020 season will run from February through August, and each franchise will host weekend competitions called "homestands," with some featuring a festival-like environment (think: music, expos, food trucks, parties).

"You go to a basketball game and maybe hang out with your friends beforehand, then there's a cool intro, the mascot comes out, you have two halves of basketball, and you drive home. We had the opportunity to do something else. This was one of the main reasons we got into the Overwatch League from day one, there's not a structure that exists already."
โ€” Andy Miller, San Francisco Shock owner, per ESPN


  • Structure: There are now Pacific and Atlantic conferences, which are made up of four divisions: Atlantic North, Atlantic South, Pacific East, and Pacific West.
  • Format: Teams will play 28 matches over the regular season, facing everyone in their conference twice, and other teams once.
  • All-Star break: After Week 12, the league will break for All-Star festivities, which will feature the best players competing in a series of fun game modes.
  • Midseason tournament: During that same week, the two conference-leading teams and the next best two teams by record will meet in a midseason tournament.

The franchises: Preseason power rankings, via ESPN:

  1. San Francisco Shock
  2. New York Excelsior
  3. Vancouver Titans
  4. Seoul Dynasty
  5. Shanghai Dragons
  6. Philadelphia Fusion
  7. L.A. Gladiators
  8. Atlanta Reign
  9. Hangzhou Spark
  10. Guangzhou Charge

11-20: 11. Florida Mayhem, 12. Chengdu Hunters, 13. Washington Justice, 14. Dallas Fuel, 15. London Spitfire, 16. Paris Eternal, 17. Toronto Defiant, 18. Houston Outlaws, 19. L.A. Valiant, 20. Boston Uprising

The bottom line: For years, mainstream sports fans have been seeing photographs of sold-out esports arenas and massive crowds. If that same energy can be replicated on a local scale, it will only further legitimize the industry.

  • But if this experiment fails, it could slow some of the momentum surrounding esports and bring into question whether it truly belongs in the national โ€” and now local โ€” sports conversation.

Go deeper: How Activision is building the "ESPN of esports" (The Motley Fool)

Bonus: ๐Ÿฅ In related news...
Expand chart
Data:ย The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and the Chinese health ministry; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The Overwatch League has been forced to cancel its first homestands in China due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Follow the latest coronavirus news and cases here.

2. ๐Ÿˆ Georgia lands No. 1 recruiting class

Photo: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the second time in three years, Kirby Smart and Georgia are the recruiting national champions, adding 25 signees from the Class of 2020 and landing 10 of the nation's top 60 players.

Top 10 classes: Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Ohio State make up the top five classes and combined to pull in 19 of this year's 30 five-star recruits, including nine of the top 11, per 247Sports.

  1. Georgia (last year: 2)
  2. Alabama (1)
  3. Clemson (10)
  4. LSU (5)
  5. Ohio State (14)
  6. Texas A&M (4)
  7. Auburn (11)
  8. Florida (9)
  9. Texas (3)
  10. Tennessee (13)

Top 10 recruits: Despite losing its grip on the No. 1 spot following late surges by Georgia and Alabama, Clemson still signed the No. 1 overall player, the No. 1 pass rusher and the No. 1 pro-style QB.

  1. Bryan Bresee, DT โ†’ Clemson
  2. Bryce Young, QB โ†’ Alabama
  3. Julian Fleming, WR โ†’ Ohio State
  4. Kelee Ringo, CB โ†’ Georgia
  5. Arik Gilbert, TE โ†’ LSU
  6. Justin Flowe, LB โ†’ Oregon
  7. Myles Murphy, DE โ†’ Clemson
  8. Jordan Burch, DT โ†’ South Carolina
  9. Paris Johnson Jr., OT โ†’ Ohio State
  10. D.J. Uiagalelei, QB โ†’ Clemson

More notes:

  • Power Five: Clemson, Miami and UNC had the best three classes in the ACC; Texas, Oklahoma and TCU topped the Big 12; Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State topped the Big Ten; Oregon, Washington and Stanford topped the Pac-12; Georgia, Alabama and LSU topped the SEC.
  • Group of Five: Cincinnati secured the top recruiting class in the Group of Five, ranking 40th nationally, and the Bearcats were the only Group of Five program to sign a four-star recruit, let alone three.
  • No. 2 RB doesn't sign: One-time Georgia signee Zach Evans, the nation's No. 2 RB prospect, remains undecided. ... Here are his high school highlights while we wait.
3. ๐Ÿ€ Last night in the NBA
Photo: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
  • Raptors on a roll: Serge Ibaka hit a go-head triple with 30 seconds left, as the Raptors rallied from 19 down to stun the Pacers, 119-118, and set a franchise record with their 12th straight win. Through 51 games last year, Toronto was 36-15. Through 51 games this year? 37-14.
  • Iggy to Miami: Andre Iguodala is taking his championship-winning talents to South Beach and Justise Winslow is headed to the Grizzlies. There are also rumblings that the trade could be expanded to include the Thunder sending Danilo Gallinari to the Heat.
  • Joker goes crazy: In the Nuggets' win over the Jazz, Nikola Jokiฤ‡ (30-21-10) became just the 10th player in NBA history to record a 30-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist triple double. And he did it against arguably the best defensive center in the league.
  • Burks, GRIII to Philly: The Sixers are sending three second-round picks to the Warriors in exchange for Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, who should provide some much-needed scoring off the bench.
  • Kings-Hawks swap: The Kings are trading center Dewayne Dedmon and two second-rounders to the Hawks for Jabari Parker and Alex Len.
4. ๐Ÿ€ Last night in college hoops
Screenshot: @ButlerMBB (Twitter)
  • ๐ŸŽฅ Buzzer-beater alert: Kamar Baldwin hit a step-back three at the buzzer to lead No. 19 Butler past No. 10 Villanova, 79-76. This was an incredible game.
  • Purdue destroys Iowa: Purdue beat No. 17 Iowa by 36 points, 104-68. ... Fun fact: The three largest wins over ranked teams in Purdue history have all come this season (also beat Michigan State and Virginia by 29).
  • Vandy snaps skid: Saben Lee scored a career-high 33 points and Vanderbilt upset No. 18 LSU, 99-90, to end a 26-game SEC losing streak. Prior to last night, the Commodores hadn't beaten a conference foe since March 3, 2018.

More scores ... Top 25 scoreboard (ESPN)

5. ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ A China-centric 21st century

Illustration: Aรฏda Amer/Axios

On the heels of the recent NBA-China controversy and with American sports leagues continuing to expand globally, I wanted to highlight the lead story from our brand new newsletter, Axios China (sign up here).

With the U.S. paralyzed by political gridlock and western institutions stagnating, China is positioning itself as the primary architect of new power structures in the 21st century, writes Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

Why it matters: If the U.S. continues to anger allies, withdraw from global institutions, and ignore much of the developing world, in 20 years it may wake up to find itself resigned to a small corner in a world defined and dominated by China.

  • The global economy: As the world's top exporter, Beijing's economic heft is acutely felt. Chinese state media stopped broadcasting NBA games after the Houston Rockets' manager tweeted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, temporarily cutting off access to a massive market for the NBA.
  • Tech: The global showdown over the future of 5G has only just begun, but it's clear Beijing views Huawei's position as global 5G leader as a key geopolitical strategy.
  • Scientific research: The Chinese government has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into research and development, with the aim of becoming a global tech superpower.
  • Military: Chinese military power in East Asia is approaching parity with the U.S., and China is constructing or leasing military bases for its own use around the Indo-Pacific.

Keep reading.

6. ๐Ÿ“ธ Photos from Kansas City

Temperatures in the 20s and wind chills in the teens didn't keep Chiefs fans from attending the team's first Super Bowl victory parade in 50 years.

The scene in K.C....

Photo: David Eulitt/Getty Images
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Photo: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

P.S. ... There was also a brief car chase.

7. Feb. 6, 2011: ๐Ÿˆ Packers win Super Bowl XLV
Photo: Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

Nine years ago today, Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and the Packers beat Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and the Steelers, 31-25, in Super Bowl XLV (highlights).

๐ŸŽฅ Watch: Top 10 Super Bowl commercials from 2011 (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: ๐Ÿฅ‡ Olympic skateboarding uniforms
Courtesy: Nike

Nike is outfitting the USA (left), France (top right) and Brazil (bottom right) skateboard teams at the 2020 Summer Games, which will be the first Olympics to feature the sport.

"Skating has been such an individual thing, it's all personal preference and your style matches the style of your skating. So having a uniform is different, but it is also cool that it's now a bigger thing."
โ€” Skateboarder Sean Malto, who helped with the design

Go deeper.

9. ๐Ÿˆ NFL trivia

In 2013, 20th Century Fox bought the rights to a movie about Kurt Warner's life. Seven years later, "American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story" will finally hit theaters on Dec. 18, 2020.

  • Question: In 1998, Warner was sent to NFL Europe to play for the Amsterdam Admirals. Who served as his backup?
  • Hint: He holds the record for longest completed pass in the Super Bowl (85 yards).

Answer at the bottom.

10. ๐Ÿ“š Good reads
Photo: Jason Mendez/Getty Images

๐Ÿ€ How Andre Iguodala handled his rare NBA sabbatical (Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN)

"In the age of athlete self-determination and brand-building, the trope of the NBA player dabbling in Silicon Valley prompts both admiration and skepticism. ... Life as a successful pro athlete can buy you anything, even as it assures you nothing."

โ›ณ๏ธ Overlooked no more: Joseph Bartholomew, golf course architect (Roy S. Johnson, NYT)

"He designed and built some of the best-known courses in segregated Louisiana. But though he loved the game, he was never permitted to play those courses."

๐Ÿˆ Can the Chiefs become the next NFL dynasty? (Danny Kelly, The Ringer)

"It's difficult to build a dynasty in the NFL โ€” ask just about any franchise that isn't the Patriots. But with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City is as well positioned as any team."

๐Ÿ‘Ÿ And if you'd prefer a video ... According to Michael Jordan's longtime agent David Falk, MJ didn't originally want to sign with Nike. Watch the full interview.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "About to model my whole look off those skateboarding fits" Baker

Trivia answer: Jake Delhomme