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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. This weekend's hosts: NYC and Dallas.

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

Details:

  • 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 — and now local — sports conversation.

Go deeper: High school esports goes mainstream

Go deeper

Exclusive: GOP Leader McCarthy asks to meet with Biden about the border

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at CPAC. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has requested a meeting with President Biden to discuss the rising numbers of unaccompanied migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border, in a letter sent on Friday.

Why it matters: Biden is facing criticism from the right and the left as agency actions and media reports reveal spiking numbers of migrant children overwhelming parts of the U.S. immigration system. Recent data shows an average of 321 kids being referred to migrant shelters each day, as Axios reported.

Vaccine hesitancy drops, but with partisan divide

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

69% of the public intends to get a COVID vaccine or already has, up significantly from 60% in November, according to a report out Friday from the Pew Research Center.

Yes, but: The issue has become even more partisan, with 56% of Republicans who say they want or have already received a coronavirus vaccine compared to 83% of Democrats.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

China's 5-year plan is hazy on climate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

China's highly anticipated 5-year plan revealed on Friday provides little new information about its climate initiatives, leaving plenty to discuss in multinational meetings this year and lots of blanks for China to fill in later.

Driving the news: The top-line targets for 2025, per state media, aim to lower energy intensity by 13.5% and carbon emissions intensity by 18% — that is, measures of energy use and emissions relative to economic output.