By Barry Janoff
September 8, 2016: AEG, which owns, operates or oversees sports and entertainment venues, teams and platforms globally, and ESL, arguably the biggest and most influential eSports-specific organization in the world, have signed a "strategic long-term global partnership" that will align each company's assets to further broaden the worldwide reach of eSports.
According to both groups, the partnership will enable ESL to utilize AEG's global network of more than 120 clubs, theaters, arenas and stadiums for qualifying events, tournaments, and world championships.
AEG venues include the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, London's O2 Arena, the Oracle Arena in Oakland and Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Since 1999, ESL has helped to drive the rise of eSports by creating professional gaming leagues, organizing competitions and tournaments and producing and streaming premium live events to mainstream audiences around the world.
The deal will also leverages AEG's leadership in live event production, ticketing, marketing and sponsorship to "further promote and expand competitive eSports worldwide."
In addition, under the alliance, AEG and ESL will move to "develop new eSports events and expand ESL's presence in the Asia Pacific region."
Financial terms of the union were not shared.
The AEG-ESL deal comes on the heels of Activision Blizzard signing sports executive veteran Pete Vlastelica as president and CEO for its Major League Gaming unit.
Vlastelica, who comes over from his position as evp for Fox Sports Digital, joins former ESPN and NFL Network CEO Steve Bornstein and MLG co-founder Mike Sepso on Activision Blizzard's eSports platform.
The company’s eSports portfolio includes regional and global events for Activision’s Call of Duty and Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone and StarCraft titles.
Key events include Activision’s Call of Duty World League, Call of Duty XP and Blizzard Entertainment’s annual BlizzCon celebration and Heroes of the Dorm competition.
Brands are anticipated to spend $128 million on eSports sponsorships and nearly $200 million on advertising this year, an increase of 49% over 2015, according to the latest Global eSports Market Report from eSports and video research, marketing and consulting firm NewZoo, San Francisco.
Those totals are expected to top $800 million by 2019, "the same year the total (eSports) marketing passes the $1 billion mark," according to NewZoo.
"Esports has reached mainstream status," Steven Roberts, executive chairman for ESL, said in a statement. "Our tournaments are viewed by as many, if not more spectators as traditional sports, so it is a natural progression that industry events increasingly become held at world class venues.
"Our partnership with AEG enables us to further improve the spectator experience and create additional, global events for audiences and partners," said Roberts.
According to Bob Newman, president for AEG Facilities, "As eSports continues to transform the global sports landscape, our alliance will enable ESL to expand their geographic reach, optimize their operations and enhance the eSports fan experience, while eliminating much of the risks associated with producing live sporting events."
Activation Blizzard has been on the front line driving the growth of eSports.
In April, MLG said that its Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major Championship set record eSports viewership for the event during its broadcast, with 71 million video views, 45 million hours of live broadcast and record 1.6 million concurrent viewers.
In May, MLG debuted the Enhanced Viewership Experience at NewFronts as well as a collaboration with Facebook to broadcast live competitions to the platform’s 1.6 billion members.
In September, Activision launched the Call of Duty World League. In partnership with MLG and MGL.tv, the league hosted its final live qualifying competition at the Call of Duty MLG Orlando Open and "brought millions of fans live coverage from Call of Duty XP," according to the company.
Among the non-endemic companies aligned with eSports are Coca-Cola, Nissan, Intel, Taco Bell, Buffalo Wild Wings, Red Bull, ESPN and Turner Sports.
"ESL has been at the forefront competitive eSports gaming from the beginning," Shawn Trell, COO for AEG Live, said in a statement. "We are confident that our alliance will be a win-win for both companies and will take the ESL brand to new heights around the world.
"Our mutual aim is to deliver premium customer experiences and new programming that brings eSports events to mainstream global audiences," said Trell.
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