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Activision Blizzard And Their New Team Of Esports

So Activision Blizzard’s creating a new division “devoted to esports” within the company. It’s going to be chairman-ed by the former CEO of ESPN and the NFL Network, Steve Bornstein, and senior vice presidente-ed by a co-founder of Major League Gaming, Mike Sepso. There’s a press release and everything.

Blizzard has actually had an esports team for years (I think it was “Global Community Development and eSports”) so the announcement of this division sounds more like a ramping up of existing efforts in order to better pursue financial opportunities as the interest in competitive gaming is growing. I suspect it’s also because, although the company hosts their own tournaments, most of the competitive gaming side involved organisations Blizzard partnered with or licensed to. That balance has been shifting a bit.

“Last year, Activision Blizzard created entertainment that was viewed and played by over 150 million people for more than 13 billion hours,” said Steve Bornstein, via the press release. “I believe esports 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.”

It fits with a bunch of other inititatives and announcement from the company in recent times. They’ve been promoting Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone heavily as esports – actually, I think the majority of marketing material about HotS has been esports related as it seems to be their main vector for promoting that game. There was a collegiate competition called Heroes of the Dorm, HotS was the grand finale game of Road to Blizzcon Europe, and it’s going to get a lot of attention at Blizzcon proper in November.

I feel like Overwatch will get a similar treatment when it comes to marketing that game – tournaments, prize money, maybe partnering with organisations like ESL to boost that…

Oh, and there was the recent announcement that Call Of Duty is getting a World League as of January 2016. That one takes the form of two competitive tiers (it follows the standard of one for pros and one for talented amateurs aspiring to the pro league) and more than $3m total to be offered as prizes and so on and so on.

The Black Ops 3 in-game implementation of a ban and protect system (you can ban elements like weapons or scorestreaks and protect others from being banned) also feels like an attempt to cater to that personal knowledge of teams and opponents. You can protect guns teammates are proficient in or try to ban elements your opponents are known to prefer.

Something I will say here is that, I’m really wary about esports’ tendency to take wholesale from traditional sports broadcasting. I’ve spoken specifically about how I think it helps normalise an absence or at least a far smaller presence of women (it was part of a VideoBrains talk about women in eSports), but more generally I feel like esports are their own thing. I’d like to see them develop their own identity and switch up the presentation a bit instead of taking so much from sports. esports’ relationship with sports broadcasting at the moment feels like part of a desire for mainstream legitimacy. I get it, but I also think it might be getting in the way of other ideas. I’m wondering what Bornstein and Sepso’s leadership will do on that front.

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Philippa Warr


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