Activision Blizzard Taps Former NFL Network Chief Steve Bornstein to Lead E-Sports Division

Steve Bornstein - H 2015
Courtesy of Activision Blizzard Inc

Major League Gaming co-founder Mike Sepso will also join the e-sports unit as senior vice president.

Former NFL Network CEO Steve Bornstein is bringing more than 30 years of television sports experience to the fast-growing field of e-sports. 

Video game publisher Activision Blizzard announced Thursday that it has tapped Bornstein as chairman of a newly launched e-sports division that will broaden the company's efforts in the arena of professional video gaming. Bornstein is joined by Mike Sepso, the co-founder and former president of professional e-sports organization Major League Gaming, who will serve as senior vice president of Activision's e-sports division. 

Bornstein's move to Activision comes a year-and-a-half after he stepped down as president and CEO of NFL Network after 12 years, where he oversaw the launch of the TV network and its negotiations for cable distribution. He began his TV sports career at ESPN in 1980, eventually rising through the ranks to become president and CEO of the cable network in 1990. 

That Bornstein is now focusing his career on the e-sports industry shows just how far the fledgling professional sport has come in recent years. Once considered a niche genre of entertainment for hard-core video gamers, today e-sports has an American audience of 32 million people and last year brought in $110 million in corporate sponsorships in North America. Now, Hollywood is eyeing the space as a new money-making opportunity, fueling recent deals including the launch of an e-sports league from WME-IMG and Turner Broadcasting System. 

"I believe e-sports will rival the biggest traditional sports leagues in terms of future opportunities, and between advertising, ticket sales, licensing, sponsorships and merchandising, there are tremendous growth areas for this nascent industry," Bornstein said. "I'm excited to help Activision Blizzard further its leadership position in this exciting growth area." 

Activision's Blizzard Entertainment unit has had a hand in video game competitions since the 1990s but the company behind Call of Duty and Skylander recently placed a larger emphasis on e-sports. Earlier this year, Blizzard Entertainment unit launched collegiate e-sports event Heroes of the Dorm, which was televised on ESPN2. It also hosts the annual Call of Duty Championship e-sports competition and in September announced plans to create the Call of Duty World League, which will offer up $3 million in prize money to professional and amateur players. 

"Celebrating our players and their unique skill, dedication and commitment is the essence of our e-sports initiatives,” said Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. "There are no better leaders for this new initiative than Steve and Mike. Steve has unparalleled experience in creating a sports network powerhouse and his groundbreaking leadership at ESPN and the NFL Network shaped how the whole world experiences sports. Mike’s entrepreneurial vision helped make e-sports a household word and he is uniquely positioned to take the experience to the next level."