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Volume 22 No. 28

Esports

ABC/ESPN and Twitch now hold rights to the Overwatch League, which attracted a crowd of 12,000 for its Grand Finals.
Photo: Overwatch League

The Overwatch League is seeing more interest from bidders in this round of media rights negotiations, according to Commissioner Pete Vlastelica, a positive sign for the property and a possible indicator of change afoot.

 

The second-year esports outfit has media deals with ABC/ESPN for linear TV and Twitch for digital streaming. Those deals started in 2018, the first year of the league’s existence, and expire after its second year. The league is in the market discussing possible renewals or new deals, and sources say the property has several options developing.

During the Grand Finals weekend in Philadelphia just over a week ago, Vlastelica declined to disclose who the league is talking to or when new deals will be announced. But he conceded that the property has seen an increase in interest from media companies.

“We’re kind of in the thick of it now, but so far the conversations have been great, and I think it’s safe to say there is more interest this time around than in our first rights cycle two years ago,” said Vlastelica, who has a media background, having joined Activision Blizzard Esports from Fox Sports. “We’re into more serious conversations now than we had then, which is very encouraging.” 

The league would not disclose if it’s using an outside agency in the media rights talks.

The Twitch deal has been reported as worth $90 million over two years, for an average of $45 million annually, although those figures have never been confirmed. The financial structure of the ABC partnership has not been disclosed.

Vlastelica said the interest is both from well-known streaming platforms, new digital platforms and legacy media companies. While the exact bidders were not known, competitors to the Amazon-owned Twitch, such as the Microsoft-owned Mixer, have been stepping up their spending in the gaming space to chip away at Twitch’s market share. New streaming platforms also are emerging, like the recently announced Venn Network, which its founders say is starting to bid on undisclosed esports properties.

For the 2019 regular season, Overwatch League averaged 313,000 viewers globally and 95,000 in the U.S., according to Nielsen, up 18% and 34% annually, respectively. The league is touting its youthful demo, citing Nielsen data that shows it averaged 55,000 viewers in the U.S. in the 18-34 demo, with a median age of 24.

For the 2019 Grand Finals, ABC earned a 0.2 final rating and 300,000 viewers, while the event hovered around 250,000 viewers on the main league Twitch stream. The league had not issued official numbers before deadline.

The league shares media revenue with teams, so the next deals are crucial, since most of the league’s franchises are still working to become profitable. Team revenue will rise next year when the league’s 20 franchises start hosting homestands regularly, but a boost in media rights dollars would be a welcome development.

While a renewal with Twitch would be logical in many respects, the platform has started trying to broaden its base beyond the gaming and esports world. Some industry experts have questioned whether it will want to pay the same amount or more for a renewal.

“There are new kinds of dedicated streaming platforms that need content, and traditional media companies trying to build digital businesses, and they know that live content is a great way to build a platform,” Vlastelica said.

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

Coca-Cola set up a foam pit for fans to jump into while posing like Overwatch character Tracer.
Photo: Tyler Demogenes

Blue-chip sponsors were plentiful in the fan zone area during the Overwatch League Grand Finals.

 

Among the brands activating or selling: Fanatics, Bud Light, Coca-Cola, State Farm, Upper Deck, Kellogg’s, Toyota and T-Mobile. Activision Blizzard’s marketing team helped the brands craft activation ideas that play into certain aspects of the Overwatch video game or league. 

For example, Coca-Cola’s activation allowed fans to jump into a foam pit while striking the pose of Overwatch character Tracer, whose silhouette has become the league’s logo. State Farm let fans design and then print signs to bring into the arena for the competition.

Bud Light had a branded truck with “Payload” in bold lettering, playing off a feature of the actual “Overwatch” video game, in which players push a payload vehicle that unlocks special healing powers. In this case, fans walked with the truck from a nearby parking lot to the fan zone, where the truck then unloaded the beer and gave it out to fans over the age of 21.

Josh Cella, head of global partnerships for Activision Blizzard Esports, said the Overwatch League and its partners stepped up their fan zone presence in a big way this year versus last year, when the league was just getting under way and held its inaugural Grand Finals at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“You don’t even get to where we are without those phenomenal partners. We’re learning from them, and they’re learning from us,” Cella said. “They’re helping prop up Overwatch League, just like we’re helping them connect with new consumers. It’s really such an awesome relationship we have with all these tremendous brands, one where the value exchange is important in both directions.”

Earlier in the weekend, Cella and other Overwatch League and game executives held a sponsor summit with around 175 attendees at The Rittenhouse Hotel. This was another example of the league working to help sponsors better understand not only the league but the game itself.

At the Grand Finals, many fans wore jerseys from various Overwatch League teams, with the hometown Philadelphia Fusion and Houston Outlaws having a heavy presence. The line for Overwatch League merchandise at the Fanatics hauler was more than a dozen people deep for hours throughout the morning and early afternoon.

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