The Overwatch League’s Toronto and Vancouver-based franchises may have yet to launch but with almost a billion dollars in ad and sponsorship revenue this year, e-sports as a global industry has certainly arrived, says Chris Overholt, CEO of OverActive Media and former chief executive of the Canadian Olympic Committee, who argues that video gaming giant Activision Blizzard has now set the standard with its Overwatch League.
“It’s a new day for a new generation of fans that consume sport differently, that consume media differently,” says Overholt, in conversation with BNN Bloomberg. “[eSports] looks and feels like sport of old and it’s a real opportunity for many. Not only does it fill stadiums, because it’s digital and because the technology has caught up with the passion for the space, it drives concurrent viewership like we’ve never seen in the world before.”
Finishing up its first year, the Overwatch League (OWL) is set to expand from 12 to 20 teams for 2019, including a Toronto franchise acquired by Overholt’s OverActive Media and a Vancouver team from Canucks Sports & Entertainment. The season wrapped up in July with the London Spitfire team crowned champions, with Activision Blizzard stating that OWL fans spent 160 million hours watching the league.
Overholt says that with the OWL, Activision Blizzard’s efforts are coming to fruition.
“They not only built a game in a fashion that would allow it to be enduring but they went to the industry of professional sports owners and asked them for advice as to what the model of the league should be to catch their interest and to be in a place where they would want to be investors,” says Overholt. “So they have all the same elements of a traditional sports league: sponsorship and ticket sales opportunities, consumer products, they have broadcast rights to sell, and all of those things are shared with the franchise owners on a revenue share basis, no different than the NBA and NFL in that regard.”
Activision Blizzard has seen its stock price rise dramatically over the past five years, gaining over 630 per cent in value between early 2013 and October of this year. The stock started dropping in early October, however, and suffered a significant pullback on November 8 when the company’s fiscal fourth quarter report showed a decline in monthly active users, the third quarter in a row to do so. ATVI reported Q4 revenue of US$1.66 billion on earnings of US$0.52 per share, while predicting fourth quarter revenue of US$3.05 billion.
Overholt says the eSports phenomenon is expected to keep growing. “On a global basis, we’ve got almost a billion people who declare themselves enthusiasts, we have advertising and sponsorship dollars that are set to eclipse a billion dollars this year and are predicted to exceed $3 billion by 2020,” he says. “It’s a massive industry that is not just arriving, it has arrived.”