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Volume 27 No. 5
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Activision Blizzard's Vlastelica Counters Overwatch League Unrest

Activision Blizzard Esports President & CEO Pete Vlastelica is pushing back on criticism leveled at Overwatch League in recent weeks, firmly denying reports depicting OWL as being in a state of disarray. OWL is entering an important third season -- the first that the property’s home-and-away, global-travel model will be fully implemented after playing its first two in L.A. But the league has faced a spate of criticism recently for issues including several of its broadcasters leaving, the lack of a new media-rights deal announcement and the amount of global travel its 20 teams will do. However, in an interview with THE DAILY earlier this week, Vlastelica strongly disputed several of the characterizations and confirmed that a media-rights deal will be announced before the season starts. Vlastelica said the early-season events on the ’20 slate are “tracking really well” in ticket sales. N.Y. Excelsior Owner Scott Wilpon yesterday said that his team’s hosting of part of OWL's opening weekend next month is expected to sell out the 2,200-seat Hammerstein Ballroom. Vlastelica, who came to Activision Blizzard from Fox Sports in late ‘16, said that he feels “confident that the season is going to be successful,” but at the same time, '20 is a “stepping-stone year toward our ultimate vision” and is not necessarily a make-or-break situation. He added that the league has seen an increase in interested bidders and “appreciation for the value” of its media rights for this cycle, which is part of the reason why a deal has taken longer to put together.

READY FOR FINANCIAL WINDFALL: With OWL teams having paid eight-figure franchise fees and many still working to turn a profit, the league is under pressure to produce a hefty media-rights deal. Its expired streaming deal with Twitch was reportedly worth around $45M annually. Vlastelica said some of the criticism is because it has “been a while since we’ve had an announcement of our own ... and what has happened in the absence of our news from the league is certain segments of the community have filled in the discussion around OWL.” But he added, “We’re still pretty focused on what we need to do this year.” Much of the recent criticism has revolved around five broadcasters departing this offseason. While some of that departed talent cited displeasures with OWL and decisions by its exec team as reasons for their leaving, Vlastelica said that it was actually the property’s decision. He said, “We’re putting together the best possible pool of talent that we think fits what our audience is looking for and our vision for the product we’re building. We’re bringing in people who we think know the game as well ... or better than anybody out there.”

ROAD RULES: Vlastelica, who also serves as Overwatch League commissioner, responded to questions about the amount of travel that teams will have to do and about the culture at Activision Blizzard Esports, which has seen several traditional sports execs join its ranks in recent years as it built up a model that mirrors what is seen with stick-and-ball properties. There have been some suggestions that with teams based in North America, Europe and Asia, the amount of travel it will take some teams to get to away matches may be ill-conceived. But Vlastelica said that the league “built our schedule to maximize the number of consecutive matches that each team plays in a region,” so if a team travels to Asia, “generally speaking they’ll fly to that region and stay for a couple weeks in a row instead of making multiple trips back and forth between two regions.”