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After the Dodgers’ World Series run and a Super Bowl berth for the Rams, can video gaming be the next sport to sweep L.A.? Overwatch League (OWL), which features competitive matches of Activision Blizzard’s first-person shooter Overwatch, is set to launch its second season Feb. 14. League matches are held in the 500-plus-seat Blizzard Arena, which sits on a soundstage at Burbank Studios that once housed Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show — “one of the most storied stages in Hollywood history,” notes Activision Blizzard’s Pete Vlastelica.
The events draw crowds of 300 to 500; online viewership for 2018’s grand finals was 860,000 per minute. The arena itself is outfitted with a towering 13,000-pixel LED display, stadium-style seating and a skybox for the likes of Owen Wilson and Michael K. Williams. A broadcast deal with Disney will bring matches to ABC, ESPN and Disney XD this season. Behind the scenes, the Philadelphia Fusion franchise is owned by Comcast, and CEO Brian Roberts’ son, Tucker Roberts, is the team’s president; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft also backs a team. OWL tapped former Endeavor vp Daniel Siegel in February 2018 to head licensing. Last season, Lionsgate sponsored the L.A. Valiant crossover promotions (Peter Levin, the studio’s president of interactive ventures, is an investor in Valiant’s owner, e-sports brand Immortals, and Lionsgate’s Jon Feltheimer and Michael Burns attended games): Players’ jerseys were branded with Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead for the first part of the season; the second half had competitors in Uncle Drew flare.
This year, OWL has added eight teams (slots are rumored to go for anywhere between $30 million to $60 million), including two from China, for a total of 20. Says Vlastelica, “We have a huge focus on growth outside the U.S.”
This story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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