Activision Blizzard to Create eSports League for 'Overwatch' Video Game

Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

According to SuperData, 214 million people will watch competitive eSports gaming this year, and the industry will grow its revenue 19 percent to $892.8 million.

Activision Blizzard is hoping to turn eSports into something akin to the NFL, including franchise teams tied to various cities and a “combine” for tryouts.

The company on Friday announced the creation of an Overwatch League, whereby teams will hire the best players of Overwatch, one of Activision Blizzard’s most popular games, and play each other for fame and fortune while in front of fans — in live arenas and via internet streaming.

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick envisions salaries, health benefits and large followings for the “athletes” participating in the Overwatch League, and he’s hosting his first “perspective owners meeting” Friday at BlizzCon, a convention in Anaheim that is likely to attract 25,000 video game enthusiasts.

Only about 100 of the BlizzCon attendees are likely to be part of the prospective owners' meeting, and Kotick wouldn’t say how much a team franchise will cost. Owners will split revenue — generated by ticket sales, sponsorships, concession sales and more — with Activision Blizzard.

For now, there are no traditional TV deals, but Kotick says among his audience of 500 million people worldwide about 150 million of them watch eSports, and of them 30 percent don’t even use broadcast television.

“If you think about it, we’re about five times bigger than Netflix,” he quips.

For the uninitiated, eSports refers to the phenomenon of turning video games into a spectator sport. According to SuperData, 214 million people will watch competitive eSports gaming this year, and the industry will grow its revenue 19 percent to $892.8 million.

In fact, eSports has grown so big that there are even fantasy players, much like fantasy football or baseball, and participants can play for money.

Kotick isn’t revealing too many details about the new league, except that it will launch next year. Players with enough notoriety will be invited to an NFL-style combine, where team owners and coaches can evaluate them and make them offers.

“Our players need to be celebrated and rewarded properly,” he says. “They’ll have health benefits, financial planning and a program where owners will be required to provide them with paid time for community service.”

Overwatch is a multiplayer first-person shooter game that launched in May and already boasts 20 million users — about 20 times more participants than there are teenagers playing high school football.

Teams will consist of six players, though they’ll also have a “bench depth,” as do traditional sports teams. Details that are pending include the number of teams to be created, cities and venues in which they’ll play and more.

Kotick also adds that, for example, “Players in Shangai might compete against players in Miami. That’s very powerful, and there’s nothing else like this."

 

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