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Volume 25 No. 47
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Disney-Activision Deal Will Put Overwatch League On ESPN, ABC

Overwatch League's deal with Disney will mark the first live telecast of esports on ESPN in primetime
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Disney will air the playoffs and finals of the Overwatch League on ESPN and other networks under a multiyear deal with Activision Blizzard that "underscores the growing popularity of professional video-game competition," according to Christopher Palmeri of BLOOMBERG NEWS. Live coverage began last night with the "playoffs on the Disney XD channel." ESPN will show the finals live starting July 27 at 7:00pm ET, with a "second day planned on Disney XD and ESPN3." Championship highlights will also be broadcast on ABC (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 7/11). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Patrick Shanley noted the deal is "historic as it will mark the first live telecast" of esports on ESPN in primetime and also the "first broadcast of a competitive gaming championship on ABC" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 7/11). VENTURE BEAT's Mike Minotti noted up to this point, OWL has "stuck with streaming services and sites like Twitch and MLG." Expanding to traditional TV "could help expand its audience." Blizzard has "shown other esports competition on channels like ESPN and ESPN 2 before, including tournaments for 'StarCraft 2' and 'Heroes of the Storm,'" but this is the "first time Overwatch League will on be on TV" (VENTUREBEAT.com, 7/11).

GETTING MORE MAINSTREAM: Blizzard’s deal to distribute OWL on Disney-owned platforms, which runs through '19, marks a new phase in esports’ attempt to break into the mainstream. Since its launch, the OWL has primarily focused on converting the 43 million people who play the game casually. But Disney’s plans are targeting general sports fans. Streaming site Twitch until now was the only third-party rightsholder in the U.S. “On ESPN, you’ve got an audience of people who love sports, and competition played at the highest level, and so we think there’s a good chance to expose Overwatch League to new audiences,” said Activision Blizzard Esports CEO Pete Vlastelica. Blizzard will handle most of the production for the ESPN/Disney telecasts, Vlastelica said. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Overwatch community sources said they believe the ESPN exposure generated by the deal will be as important as any cash. “For us to be the thing that’s on in bars when they don’t change the channel is massively significant,” said Immortals President & COO Ari Segal, whose company owns the L.A. Valiant OWL franchise (Ben Fischer, Staff Writer).

BIG WIN: CABLEFAX DAILY writes the OWL "achieved a major victory" through this deal. It is "further evidence of the gap between esports and the mainstream coming to a close." According to Parks Associates research, the demand for esports content is "only rising, with 10% of US broadband households watching it" (CABLEFAX.com, 7/12). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Andrew Bucholtz wrote the OWL is "one of the biggest esports properties out there" and this deal "feels like a big step." This deal "might be a good fit for ESPN" and will be something to "keep an eye on" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 7/11). The opening segment of last night’s Disney XD coverage of the OWL playoffs featured host Chris Puckett saying, “Today is a historic day and we're so happy to have all of you with us, not only in the arena, but those tuning in online and for those for the first time, tuning in on a television set this season. That’s right ladies and gentlemen -- we're everywhere today” (“Overwatch League,” Disney XD, 7/11).

TWITTER REAX: Esports consultant Rod Breslau tweeted, "Another awesome moment for esports. ... I expect the amount of 'WTF is on ESPN?' tweets to skyrocket while Overwatch is playing. ... While OWL airing on ESPN is nice, the theme for much of the Overwatch community heading into the start of the OWL playoffs tonight is a lack of hype and promotion from Blizzard." Major League Gaming co-Founder Michael Sepso: "Back in 2003 ⁦@MLGSundance⁩ and I started working with @espn to bring esports to the network. A decade and a half later, so much has changed and here we are." CNN: "A landmark moment in the rise of competitive video gaming." Guinevere Capital's Dave Harris: "Very interesting after the #LeagueOfLegends MLB Advanced Media deal pivoted to Disney/ESPN too." 

For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.