Blizzard Entertainment, Disney, and ESPN have announced the signing of a multi-year deal that will see Overwatch League matches and highlights broadcast on the ESPN, Disney, and ABC family of networks.
The broadcast deal began almost immediately after it was announced on Wednesday, with matches from the current season�s Overwatch League playoffs airing on ESPN3 and Disney XD that evening.
Coverage to Begin with Season 1 Playoffs
Overwatch is a first-person shooter video game in which teams of six players compete as a variety of characters with different abilities to complete objectives on various maps. The Overwatch League is the highest level of competitive play for the game, featuring 12 city-based teams. The league began playing its first season in January 2018.
Under the terms of the broadcast deal, the Disney-owned networks will broadcast both this year�s playoffs and next year�s second season of the Overwatch League. Networks that will air at least one night of this year�s playoffs during July include ESPN and ESPN 2, while ABC will offer a highlights package on Sunday, July 29.
The first night of the Grand Finals will become the first esports competition to be broadcast live in primetime on ESPN when it is played on July 27.
ESPN Has Limited History of Esports Coverage
But ESPN is no stranger to esports in general. The final stages of the Street Fighter 5 tournaments at the Evolution Championship Series have aired on ESPN2, and two seasons of the Heroes of the Storm collegiate tournament � known as �Heroes of the Dorm� � saw coverage on the ESPN family of networks as well.
Still, the commitment to regularly broadcasting games on television and digital networks is a major step up in ESPN�s coverage of esports.
�We are turning the corner here in terms of our interest and engagement in the esports category,� said ESPN 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.�
Pinning down a television broadcast partner could help Blizzard grow Overwatch League as well. While the Twitch streams of league matches have generally drawn over 100,000 viewers each week, even a small crossover interest from traditional sports fans could greatly increase the game�s profile.
�It�s a cross section that�s a hardcore sports fan, especially on ESPN channels,� said Pete Vlastelica, president and CEO of Activision Blizzard esports leagues. �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.�
That sort of crossover appeal might be necessary for Overwatch League to fulfill its potential. Ownership groups paid $20 million each to own teams in the new league, and while teams currently all play out of a studio in Burbank, California, the eventual goal is to move each team to their home city, which would make the league the first geographically structured esports competition in the world.
Six teams reached the playoffs of the Overwatch League in its inaugural season. The New York Excelsior and the Los Angeles Valiant received first round byes, while the Boston Uprising take on the Philadelphia Fusion and the Los Angeles Gladiators battle the London Spitfire in the quarterfinals. The Grand Finals will take place on July 27 and 28.