On Wednesday, Blizzard Entertainment announced that it had struck a multi-year broadcast with ESPN, Dinsey and ABC family networks. The broadcast deal includes the Overwatch League playoffs which kicked off on the night of the announced, the Season 1 grand finals that will be played at the Barclays Center in New York later this month as well as the next year’s Overwatch League Season 2.
The coverage began on Wednesday with the playoffs on ESPN3 and Disney XD. This will be followed by 10 hours of the Grand Finals coverage which will also include a July 29 recap show on ABC.
“We are turning the corner here in terms of our interest and engagement in the Esports category,” said ESPN’s Vice President of Digital Media Programming, John Lasker. “We’ve had an interest and have been watching pretty closely how the first year of the Overwatch League has been progressing, and we’re really excited to be a part of this. Clearly, by the way, we’re going to be covering it starting with the playoffs and the finals this year certainly speaks volumes to our excitement and our enthusiasm overall for Esports moving forward.”
Even though the financial terms of the partnership are yet to be revealed, it is quite obvious that this is a huge step forward for the Overwatch League and the Esports industry as a whole. Also, existing distribution agreements such as Twitch broadcasts will remain and this combined with what the Disney and ESPN networks have to offer at both the linear and digital level, Esports are headed nowhere but up.
Is This It?
The Esports industry has been around for a very long time but is undeniable that the era of live streaming is one of its key propellants. Case in point, Twitch has grown and evolved to become the go-to streaming service for competitive video games such as Dota 2, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Now, other players like Facebook are carving out their own offerings with regards to the Esports streaming.
Online streaming has done a great job for Esports and it will probably remain to be a leader in that regard but the very idea of an Esports tournament championship airing live in primetime on ESPN is very exciting, to say the least. The partnership is, by all means, a well-structured strategy to bring Overwatch to a much larger audience. This brings about a crossover of sorts but the defining factor is that each distribution point is representative of different demographics with a common interest – watching the highest levels of the Overwatch League gameplay.
“It’s a cross-section that’s a hardcore sports fan, especially on ESPN channels,” Pete Vlastelica, president, and CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports leagues said. “They love watching competition, they love watching the best in the world compete at a great game. Maybe they have played video games. Maybe they know of Overwatch. Maybe they even play Overwatch or play it a lot. But they’re fundamentally looking to be entertained by the highest possible level of competition around a great game. And that’s what we’ve got.”
This could have just the right amount of momentum to propel Esports towards mainstream media and mass global adoption.