ESTNN's Amy Chen wrangled OverActive Media's President and CEO Chris Overholt away from the Toronto Ultra to pick his brain on Toronto's esports scene, launching another new franchise, and why esports is important for Toronto as a whole.
After OverActive Media's reveal of its brand new Call of Duty League franchise, the Toronto Ultra, ESTNN had the opportunity to wrangle away Chris Overholt, the president and CEO of OverActive Media, to tell us a little about the Toronto Ultra franchise, the upcoming Call of Duty and Overwatch homestands and what the launch and reveal means for the city and community.
ESTNN: When it comes to the Toronto Ultra roster, why is it important to have a reflection of Canada’s cultural diversity, and especially in the context of a city as diverse as Toronto?
Chris Overholt: We live in one of the most multinational cities that exist in the world, and so authentic to our brand, we believe that should be fostered around our players and our staff. The beautiful thing about this industry is that it is, by its very nature, inclusive and diverse.
ESTNN: On the team building side of the roster, how were these particular players chosen to be a part of Toronto Ultra? For instance, is it because of their experience, teamwork, and location?
Chris Overholt: I think you're looking for a couple of different elements when you're putting a team together — a team of any kind, whether it be a hockey team, a basketball team, or a franchise one like Call of Duty or Overwatch. First and foremost, you're looking for skilled players — players that can be or are considered to be among the best in the world at what they do.
Secondly, and most importantly, you’re looking for players that can help you build your brand, your brand reputation, and bring fans of their own into that conversation, bring a following, bring engagement. The team brand certainly benefits from that, and the organization, by extension, has the opportunity to then build on that passion and grow the fan base. So from a business perspective [and] from a fan authenticity perspective, that’s really important.
And then finally, you’re looking for good human beings. Like anything else, you want to work with people everyday who are good humans. —Think about the people that they work with and care for, think about the fans in that way. So we try to put all of those pieces in place.
We want to be able to come together as a team to act that way, to function that way, to support each other that way. I think we’ve taken a pretty good cut at that with this team.
ESTNN: Similar to the 2020 Overwatch League, the 2020 Call of Duty League is also headed for a homestand series model. What led up to this decision, and why is this particular model fundamental when it comes to building a brand and community?
Chris Overholt: Like Overwatch, Call of Duty, League of Legends — this is central to the thesis of OverActive Media. We really believe that what will be essential to the long-term success of esports in companies like ours and these franchises are rooted in the idea of being able to have a regional brand and build that strategy for growing new brands and engaging fans on their terms. We’re believers in that strategy, we believe the business model that comes with it.
ESTNN: As you’ve said, OverActive Media is the first organization in the world to own three franchises in the top esports leagues. What does this mean to the organization itself in terms of its place in the esports industry, and especially the Canadian esports scene?
Chris Overholt: We’re in a global position, so we're working our tails off everyday to make sure OverActive Media is doing its part not only in Toronto, but the nation of Canada for a better global esports conversation. It’s really a big part of what we’re doing, and, of course, we do that through the strategy we’ve been talking about. Our investment in these franchises — the importance of esports leagues that exist around the world — as you’ve pointed out, we are the first of any organization in the world to hold three franchises. I think that has a very unique position inside the esports community. So as I said, we’re working hard everyday to land us right in the middle of that discussion.
ESTNN: On that note of being in the middle of the conversation, we’ve all seen in the recent Charlton Insights survey that Call of Duty is very popular in Ontario. It’s at 33%, which beats Fortnite sitting at 28%. Given this context, what does it mean for Toronto and its community of players to now have Toronto Ultra as a team?
Chris Overholt: It was an understanding that we had thought our conversations with everybody at OverActive and Activision Blizzard. All of that -- the game, those registered players -- is an expression of the potential of the Call of Duty League, and by extension, our Toronto-based franchise. Our highest expression of our brand will be the live events turning up around our franchise in the city this year and [being] denoted to that audience's presence is very exciting to us.
ESTNN: Over a year ago, the world was introduced to the Toronto Defiant. Since then, you’ve continued to build that intersection of esports, music, and entertainment. What does it mean for OverActive Media and the esports industry as a whole to continue connecting with talented individuals like The Weeknd, Nav, and Zach Zoya?
Chris Overholt: We’re sophisticated, I would say. I like to think of it as a sales and marketing-driven organization with the interest of its fans at the very heart of the business. We need to be an esports company first. The reason I say it that way is because we can never lose sight of the importance of our fans and how they feel about our players and our brand. I think that would be a continuous journey. We always need to be thinking about those things, we always need to be thinking about how we’re relevant [through] conversations with our fans and the support of artists.
As a part of that, we need to be a smart sales and marketing organization. Do the research that’s required, speak to our fans, talk to them, get their feedback. We’ve done some of that work over the last year. Part of what’s revelatory about that is how important those things you’ve mentioned are. The intersection of music and entertainment with this audience is significant. We are constantly in conversations with organizations and individuals that are attached to fashion, that are attached to music and entertainment, and are attached to traditional sports. All of those have a place in our community, and we know that because our fans tell us that.
ESTNN: As we’ve seen with OverActive Media in the past, there is a big focus creating a brand experience. What can fans look forward to when it comes to Toronto Ultra?
Chris Overholt: We had the benefit of time — we knew we were going to be part of the Call of Duty League all the way back in May. Mike Armstrong, our global head of marketing, and his team — they had a little more time than they did last year to really dig into it and spend some time with fans and do focus group work to build the brand literally from the ground up.
We did quite a bit of research as a part of that. One of the things we determined from that is that Call of Duty is a game that fans do for fun. You’ve got some fairly serious teams, but our fans told us that they think it’s something they do as a hobby and they do for entertainment. So as we were developing the brand, we tried to keep all of that in mind. I think what we landed on is that it’s not too serious, it’s rooted in a bit of tongue-in-cheek, it’s got an element to it that’s making sure we’re embracing the fun side of the brand. In the immortal words of Kawhi Leonard, we’re going to be the “fun guys.”
ESTNN: Where do you see the Toronto Call of Duty League in the future?
Chris Overholt: It’s been a year — we’re a little bit smarter and we’re a lot more passionate. Everyday, we work hard to put ourselves in the right conversation and really put OverActive Media in the centre of the global esports conversation. Everyday, we see potential starting to realize itself. We see the growth of the audience, the growth of the interest of marketing partners. We are so fortunate to have so many significant investors to help us get this started. I’ve been in the sports and entertainment business for a long time, and this is about as much fun as I’ve had in a long, long time. A big part of that is the people I’m working with and associated with everyday, and the potential we see in this together.
Image VIA: OAM