The Overwatch League, in partnership with its franchises, has just announced its plans for 2020, which includes a new homestand series. The Call of Duty League is also headed for a homestand series model during its inaugural season. ESTNN sat down with Chris Overholt, president and CEO of OverActive Media Group, owners of the Toronto Defiant, to talk about the League's move to the homestand model.
In 2020, each Overwatch League team is scheduled to host at least two weekends of the competition in their respective cities. Although the Overwatch League also announced that it won’t be adding new teams for 2020, it will be advancing the structure in order to suit the new homestand series model. These new homestand series will be similar to the ones Dallas and Atlanta had earlier this season, as well as the upcoming one for the Los Angeles Valiant this August.
Toronto is scheduled to host two homestand series next year as well. Chris Overholt, the president and CEO at OverActive Media Group, which owns the Toronto Defiant and Splyce, sat down with ESTNN for an interview about what these new homestand series will mean to the teams, fans, and esports itself.
ESTNN: What would this 2020 Overwatch League homestand series mean to Toronto Defiant as both a team itself and as a brand?
Chris Overholt: It really gives this gives us an opportunity to build some big tent pole events in the market and gives us an opportunity to engage with our fans in a much bigger way and a much more efficient way. In the context of watching the brand, it's a massive opportunity to speak to our core audience and to build some new audiences as well, but to do it in a very, very significant way.
ESTNN: On that note, why is it important for these Overwatch League teams to connect with their respective cities?
Chris Overholt: If you think about traditional sports and in the context of how you build fan affinity and how you build emotional connections to your team and to your brand, then a big part of that is the live engagement around the live event and the opportunity to host games where your fans can come and experience that firsthand.
So this is a logical step and a logical growth for the league, and it should put us at a place where we can really start to test some assumptions that we've seen from our research and start to think about how we can not only grow the audience of Toronto Defiant but how we grow the audience of esports in Toronto and Canada.
ESTNN: Toronto itself has been incredible in its support for the Raptors and Leafs. In terms of esports, we saw the turnout of Toronto Defiant fans at EB Games for the team’s first Toronto meet and greet event. How would the 2020 Overwatch League and Toronto Defiant play a role in generating either a similar or growing level hype and experience for fans by having these homestand games?
Chris Overholt: The connection that we've had so far, of course, has been at the distance. We have many fans here in Toronto, and as you pointed out earlier, every time we've done something in the marketplace, every time we've run an event to engage with our players or meet members of our organization or to view our team, even at a distance, fans have responded very generously and very significantly. So this is a big opportunity, a big step, and really important to how we think about growing this audience. You can't grow a major audience when you're playing at a distance like this, and I think this is really the genius of the Activision Blizzard team and those who are running the league.
They knew from the beginning that this was going to need to be modeled after traditional sports. If you are going to build big audiences for esports generally and for the Overwatch League, you’re going to have to be present in the local market. So this commitment to regionalization is something we really believe in and it's central to the idea of the Overwatch League. It will also be true to the Call of Duty League as well, a little later in the year.
It's also the way we're starting to think about our esports teams and other places in the world. We've acquired the Mad Lions organization in Spain and we really see an opportunity to build a very significant regional fan base in Madrid and in Spain. So we're starting to take steps to consider how we do that best as well.
ESTNN: How would you describe how your own and your team’s past experience with the Raptors and the Olympic Committee play into the future of esports in terms of these regional fan bases?
Chris Overholt: Most of our leadership team has had big brand experience or, in some cases, big brand esports and traditional sports experience as well, and all of that is really relevant to our model. We talk often about building a 21st-century expression of sports and media and entertainment, and we really believe we're doing that around our adjustment in these core teams and franchises that play in the biggest the most important leagues in the world.
That experience from my days in Maple Leaf Sports and the experience that Tyler Keenan brings from Nike or Mike Armstrong from Google. — That intersection with big brands and thinking about how to build big brands in the context of a sports businesses is very relevant to what we're doing here and very relevant to the OverActive model for the future.
ESTNN: Speaking of partnerships and brands, earlier this year, OverActive Media partnered up with The Weeknd. How would you describe the international and national reception of these partnerships and investments so far?
Chris Overholt: The announcement of our attachment to The Weeknd was, I think, the biggest announcement we've made so far in our brief history. I think it had 151 million global media impressions, so the intersection that exists between esports, entertainment, and music is a big opportunity. We're exploring that not only in different ways that we might engage with The Weeknd and his organization but also in other partners potentially related to the music and entertainment business. So we've been active in working on those in various ways and we hope to have some key announcements in that regard within the next few weeks.
ESTNN: On that note, what are your thoughts about the future of esports and the Overwatch League — especially in terms of city-centric franchising?
Chris Overholt: Yesterday, I was watching tennis for close to six hours and every time, I find myself included in those ways. I'm such a fan of all sports. I was recently in Spain and found myself watching 45 minutes of table tennis — Russia versus Romania — broadcasting in a language I don't understand. I think it's that kind of tension and that kind of attraction to sports, generally, but it’s so untapped in the context of esports. Our job is not only to stand up to these teams and these brands in this market but to really build an audience for each esport globally.
I really believe that OverActive Media will have a big role to play in our narrative not just here in Canada, but around the world. I think the more that we explore this, the more that we expose new fans to what we're doing, I think it only means good things for everyone. So these live events give us a chance to see that firsthand. Like traditional sports, if you're attending, you have a chance to see the energy, to feel that energy in the building as a member of that audience.
The word of mouth around, that is a very powerful marketing tool. We intend to do everything we can to build the best experience we possibly can for our fans and to grow our audience distribution and network.
Overwatch League Divisions
In terms of the divisions for next season, Overwatch League teams will be grouped into four divisions. The four divisions will be part of the Pacific Conference and Atlantic Conference.
Eastern Division: Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Seoul, and Shanghai.
Western Division: Dallas, LA Gladiators, LA Valiant, San Francisco, and Vancouver.
Southern Division: Atlanta, Florida, Houston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.
Northern Division: Boston, London, New York, Paris, and Toronto.
Featured image via Jay Crew Photography/Overactive Media.