The inaugural Overwatch League season will begin its culmination as the OWL playoffs get underway Wednesday night, but the popular esports league notched another victory hours before the OWL postseason goes live.
ESPN announced a multi-year deal on Wednesday morning establishing the family of ESPN, ABC and Disney networks and streaming services as the exclusive television home for Overwatch League broadcasts, beginning with Wednesday’s OWL quarterfinals and continuing through the entirety of the league’s second season. “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,” said ESPN VP of Digital Media Programming John Lasker. The agreement will not impact OWL’s current broadcasting deal with Twitch.
The move is the latest and most beaming signal of the television giant’s interest in the esports market. ESPN’s previous competitive gaming broadcasts were spread across a wide array of games, including DOTA 2, Street Fighter V, Heroes of the Storm and League of Legends. Overwatch was also featured previously by Disney as the Overwatch League Contenders Series, essentially the OWL minor league, was featured on Disney XD last summer.
While previous broadcast relationships with esports competitions produced widely varying returns for the networks, OWL has proven to be a different kind of beast. The league’s first season became a huge success seemingly overnight and has remained a top draw on Twitch throughout the season. Those high audience retainment figures and the younger demographics esports draws make the addition of Overwatch League a no-brainer as television viewership numbers continue to dip across the board. “We are turning the corner here in terms of our interest and engagement in the esports category … Clearly by the way we’re going to be covering [Overwatch League] starting with the playoffs and the finals this year certainly speaks volumes to our excitement and our enthusiasm overall for esports moving forward,” said Lesker.
For Activision Blizzard, the deal marks another step in expanding the reach and crossover potential of its burgeoning esports interests. “It’s a cross section that’s a hardcore sports fan … They love watching competition, the love watching the best in the world compete at a great game,” said president and CEO of Activision Blizzard esports leagues Pete Vlastelica. “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 got.”
The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the agreement is believed to be in excess of the $90 million value of OWL’s broadcasting contract with Twitch.