Activision Blizzard, the world's largest video game publisher, entered the eSports arena Thursday with the relaunch of Major League Gaming, a streaming service it bought in January for $46 million. Among the new shows covering the sport of professional gaming will be the "eSports Report," pitched as a "SportsCenter" for eSports with real-time highlights and original programming.
Activision Blizzard also announced a partnership with Facebook to stream tournaments on Facebook Live.
"This has all the same feeling as when we launched ESPN and when we launched the NFL Network," Steve Bornstein, chairman of Activision Blizzard Media Networks, told International Business Times at a presentation to advertisers in New York. "It's something new. It's something advertisers have to accept and gravitate toward. I think we're at the tipping point of eSports becoming really legitimate."
Before joining Activision Blizzard, Bornstein launched NFL Network; prior to that he was president and CEO of ESPN and president of ABC. He said he started looking into competitive gaming because of his twin boys who played "Call of Duty and "Destiny."
The acquisition of MLG's business in January was overshadowed by the $6 billion acquisition of King in November 2015, but it was vital to Activision Blizzard's growth in eSports. The game company has a roster of popular eSports titles including"Starcraft II," "World of Warcraft," "Heroes of the Storm," "Hearthstone" and "Call of Duty," but did not have the experience in producing eSports content. "Our acquisition of Major League Gaming’s business furthers our plans to create the ESPN of eSports," Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard CEO, said in a statement at the time of MLG's acquisition.
A key component will be the "eSports Report” Enhanced Viewing Experience, which combines live programming and an algorithm to create real-time analytics. Viewers will gain insights into the performance of the team and individuals. From kill streaks to winning percentage, the overlay will also include additional social and advertising widgets. Viewers can share updates or match stats on Facebook, Twitter or other social media channels.
Beginning with the MLG Anaheim Open as part of the "Call of Duty" World League, Activision Blizzard will broadcast the tournament on Facebook Live. Daily content from "eSports Report" will also air on Facebook Live.
The "Call of Duty" World League will be an important part of the expanded eSports coverage. Through the end of 2016, Activision Blizzard will deliver original programming, player features and "Call of Duty" World League coverage. The "Call of Duty" franchise is incredibly popular; last year's "Call of Duty: Black Ops III" was the best-selling game of 2015, but enhanced eSports coverage provides a new revenue stream not tied to the release of a new game.