ESPN and MLG Veterans Form New Activision Esports Division

"We all truly believe that esports is going to become a big, global major sport."


Activision Blizzard, the gaming giant behind the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft juggernaut franchises, is making a major play for esports. The company on Thursday announced the formation of a new division dedicated entirely to competitive gaming. Not only that, but Activision has hired some top talent to run it. Former ESPN and NFL Network president Steve Bornstein will serve as the division's Chairman, while Major League Gaming co-founder and president Mike Sepso has left that company to work as Senior Vice President for Activision's new gaming group.

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Activision isn't saying just yet what exactly the purpose of its new esports division is, only that its aim is to "deliver the best-in-class fan experience across games, platforms and geographies, furthering the development of its esports ecosystem."

As for when Activision might provide specifics, Activision told GameSpot that BlizzCon and Activision's investor day event immediately before it in November are two likely venues. But in an interview with GameSpot, Sepso provided some more context around the announcement and what it means.

Activision already has an extensive lineup of esports-focused initiatives such as tournaments for StarCraft, World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, and HearthStone. In addition to this, the company recently announced a new competitive Call of Duty tournament called Call of Duty World League, boasting a $3 million prize pool. So what, then, is the purpose of Activision's new esports division?

"In general, the creation of this division is an indication that at the very senior level, the company is taking esports seriously as an important part of the overall business," Sepso told GameSpot. "Initially, the idea behind the division is to really be an internal resource to help the teams that are already deeply entrenched in the esports space.

"Each of the teams around each of the individual games is going to continue to operate the activities that they've been doing, and we're here to try to help expand and explore new avenues for it. We all truly believe that esports is going to become a big, global major sport. And our mission is to help us get there as a one big team."

"It's the first sport that has the potential to be a big, global sport that has really grown up outside of traditional media distribution." -- Sepso

Part of the division's charter is to not only cater to existing esports fans, but to draw in new ones. Just like football can be fun to watch even if you've never played, the same can be true for gaming, Sepso said.

"If you think about it, tens of millions of people sit down and watch NFL games every Sunday in the fall in this country, and very, very few of them have actually ever played football," he said. "And it's not the easiest game to understand if you haven't experienced it before. So I think there's a lot of analogues. One of the reasons Steve is here to help us is there's a lot of analogues to traditional sports and traditional sports television and how you tell stories and I think that's one of the things he's going to bring to the table for us."

For his part, Bornstein said esports has the potential to stand alongside football, baseball, and basketball when it comes to size and mainstream appeal. "Between advertising, ticket sales, licensing, sponsorships, and merchandising, there are tremendous growth areas for this nascent industry," he said.

One thing that's holding esports back at the moment is how you find it. As Sepso explains, if you're not looking for it, you may not find it, unlike other traditional sports that dominate news cycles and media coverage. But this is also a huge opportunity for gaming.

"It's a sport that you have to go get on-demand, it's not something you happen to come across because it's on every channel on Sunday. So I think that's one of the challenges. Unless you're seeking out esports, there's not a lot of opportunity to see it," he said. "But that's also one of the great opportunities about the sport. It's the first sport that has the potential to be a big, global sport that has really grown up outside of traditional media distribution. Challenges, but also lots of opportunities."

What do you make of Activision's big esports announcement? Let us know in the comments below.

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