Upper Deck and the Overwatch League have announced an exciting multi-year deal to create licensed collectibles, including the world's first-ever official esports league trading cards, along with stickers, sticker books, prints, posters, and memorabilia.
Fans everywhere will now be able to commemorate and show off their commitment to their favorite teams using an interesting and somewhat recent technology. Individuals will be able to purchase, open, collect, and trade cards with others all over the world through the use of the Upper Deck e-Pack, a platform in use since 2016 that permits fans easy access to trading card packs from anywhere, using only a smartphone, tablet, or computer. From there, the e-Pack system then allows users to acquire physically versions of those cards to be sent to them.
For those not familiar with the e-Pack system, or others that came before it like Topps Bunt, Star Wars Card Trader, and Panini Dunk (to name a few), the goal has been to find a common ground for old-school collecting that required a physical purchase and then storage, and the advent of digital technology and collectibles online.
What this translates to is that companies like Upper Deck are betting that consumers will be fine with spending money on a product they may never physically touch, pay again if they do want to ship it to themselves, all while attempting to incorporate elements of online gaming, as they describe that collectors will be “introduced to an extensive achievement system where they can earn exclusive avatars, relic shadowbox cards featuring match-used equipment, autographed jerseys, multi-player booklet cards, and more.”
To kick the collecting off, attendees at the upcoming Overwatch League 2019 All-Stars events will be privy to special promo packs ahead of the trading card release, and will be able to begin their digital collection with two exclusive All-Star themed hero cards that will be redeemable through a QR code located in the sample packs.
It is certainly not clear how successful this program will be. Critics of the development of e-Packs, in general, point out that it feels disingenuous to call a thing a “collectible” if it does not exist in the physical world and cannot be used outside of selling or trading it with someone else. While the press release states that one can order cards at any time, e-Packs used for NHL series have had significant restrictions in the past.
In some cases, the first 200 cards of a set are digital only, meaning that they can never be obtained in the real world. Other cards first require you to collect various duplicate copies in order to then order it for delivery, which is akin to how mobile games force players to grind in order to level up.
Time will tell how successful this is, and if people can be swayed sufficiently to pay real money for something they may never have as a “collectible." The collaboration with the Overwatch League marks the first venture into esports for Upper Deck, and future projects will depend on the outcome of this initial few years.