By Barry Janoff
October 22, 2015: Having been CEO for ESPN and the NFL Network, it carries significant weight when Steve Bornstein says, “I believe eSports will rival the biggest traditional sports leagues in terms of future opportunities."
Bornstein, who joined ESPN in January 1980 and remained there for 20 years before moving to the NFL Network in 2003, will be chairman of a new eSports division at leading videogame company Activision Blizzard, which has become a global front-runner in the burgeoning eSports category via Call of Duty, StarCraft, World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm and other platforms.
Mike Sepso, who most recently was co-founder and president for Major League Gaming, will serve as svp at the new eSports unit.
According to Activision Blizzard, the new division will "build on the company’s competitive gaming leadership by creating all-new ways to deliver the best-in-class fan experience across games, platforms and geographies, furthering the development of its eSports ecosystem."
“Last year, Activision Blizzard created entertainment that was viewed and played by over 150 million people for more than 13 billion hours — this dwarfs the engagement that fans spend on all other sports,” Bornstein said in a statement. “I believe eSports will rival the biggest traditional sports leagues in terms of future opportunities; and (among) advertising, ticket sales, licensing, sponsorships and merchandising, there are tremendous growth areas for this nascent industry."
Among his other accomplishments, Bornstein, who left NFL Network in 2013, worked with Jim Valvano, who was head basketball coach for North Carolina State before passing away due to cancer in 1993, to form The V Foundation for Cancer Research.
eSports is arguably the fastest-growing category in the sports-gaming landscape aside from daily fantasy sports.
The number of eSports enthusiasts worldwide has grown from 89.7 million in 2014 to 116 million in 2015, according to The Global Growth of eSports, a study released earlier this year (and updated in September) from gaming research, consulting and marketing firm NewZoo, San Francisco.
eSports revenues totaled $194 million in 2014 and are predicted to reach $278 million in 2015 and are estimated to grow to $765 million in 2018, according to NewZoo. Global eSports viewership is more than 226 million people, with the total expected to climb to 323 million by 2018.
According to Bobby Kotick, CEO for Santa Moncia, Calif.-based Activision Blizzard, “Celebrating our players and their unique skill, dedication and commitment is the essence of our eSports initiatives, There are no better leaders for this new initiative than Steve and Mike.
"Steve has unparalleled experience in creating a sports network powerhouse and his groundbreaking leadership at ESPN and the NFL Network shaped how the whole world experiences sports. Mike’s entrepreneurial vision helped make eSports a household word, and he is uniquely positioned to take the experience to the next level," said Kotick.
Brands aligned with eSports include Coca-Cola, Intel, Nissan and T-Mobile.
Among Activision Blizzard's plans, Blizzard Entertainmen's BlizzCon event will take place Nov. 6-7 in Anaheim, Calif., featuring the global finals for StarCraft II, World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, in which players will compete for more than $4 million in prizes.
Earlier this year, Blizzard Entertainment launched “Heroes of the Dorm,” the first collegiate eSports event to be televised on ESPN2. More than 6,000 collegiate players, representing 460-plus schools, competed in the tournament, with the winning team from UC Berkeley securing the grand prize of fully-paid tuition for each of its members.
In addition, Activision Publishing hosts the annual "Call of Duty Championship," one of the largest console eSports competitions in the world. In September, the company announced the creation of the Call of Duty World League, which provides a $3 million prize pool to professional and amateur players.
"eSports will rival the biggest traditional sports leagues in terms of future opportunities . . . there are tremendous growth areas for this nascent industry."
“Call of Duty has always been about community, camaraderie and competition, which drives incredible engagement with the game all year long. eSports allows us to deliver these moments to our fans whether they are playing the game themselves or cheering on those who are,” Eric Hirshberg, CEO for Activision, said in a statement.
“Three years ago, we held the first Call of Duty Championship to showcase the dedication and skill of Call of Duty players around the world. Since then, eSports has become a global phenomenon with more than 120 million people watching online competitive gaming each year and Call of Duty continues to lead as the top console eSports franchise in the world.”
The boost of its division at Activision Blizzard follows a number of recent significant moves in the eSports category, including the launch of a weekly online eSports video show from Internet media company IGN and sponsored by Coca-Cola; Turner Sports and WME | IMG forming an eSports league that will be broadcast on TBS in 2016; and Skillz, a global leader in mobile eSports, raising $15 million in Series B funding, which included investments from The Kraft Group, owners of the NFL's New England Patriots; and Marc Lasry, co-owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
"As a member of the eSports community for over 12 years, I couldn’t be more excited for the future of the sport," Sepso said in a statement. "I am confident that the company’s industry-leading content will capture the many opportunities we have to entertain and celebrate our players. Activision Blizzard is uniquely positioned to give millions of fans around the world what they want, and I’m excited to help support this community in a way that honors its history."
eSports Category Gets Boost From Turner, Money, Media
Eyeing Key Demo, Coke Expands Global eSports Reach
Back to Home Page