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Today's word count: 1,569 words (6 minutes).
Illustration: Aïda 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."— Andy Miller, San Francisco Shock owner, per ESPN
The franchises: Preseason power rankings, via ESPN:
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.
Go deeper: How Activision is building the "ESPN of esports" (The Motley Fool)
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.
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.
More scores ... Top 25 scoreboard (ESPN)
Illustration: Aïda 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.
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).
🎥 Watch: Top 10 Super Bowl commercials from 2011 (YouTube)
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."— Skateboarder Sean Malto, who helped with the design
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.
Answer at the bottom.
🏀 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."
⛳️ 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."
🏈 Can the Chiefs become the next NFL dynasty? (Danny Kelly, The Ringer)
"It's difficult to build a dynasty in the NFL — 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."
👟 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.
Kendall "About to model my whole look off those skateboarding fits" Baker
Trivia answer: Jake Delhomme