The Future of Esports and the Implications for Advertising and Sports as We Know It

Activision Blizzard Leagues discusses the state of the industry

CANNES, France—Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer, Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues CMO Daniel Cherry III and David “Nomy” Ramirez, pro gamer on the Overwatch League’s San Francisco Shock team, spoke today in the brand’s cabana about esports, Overwatch and the implications for advertising, women in gaming and the evolution of sports as we know it.

“Esports is a nice term, but it’s an industry term. We want to move beyond that,” Cherry said. That direction is “competitive entertainment—real-time and high energy, unlike baseball, which is a nice bang for your buck but takes four hours.”

For Blizzard, esports is “a new strain of sports” that sets itself apart from what Cherry called “t-sports,” his name for traditional sports.

To understand this, it’s critical for mainstream brands to rid themselves of a few stereotypes.

“There’s this idea that gamers are fat guys with pimples who live in their mom’s basement,” Nanzer said. “We hear that a lot; it couldn’t be further from the truth. Our pros don’t look like that.”

Pro gamers may skew younger than your typical NFL running back, but they’re pros with a lifespan like any athlete. Five OWL (Overwatch League) teams have personal trainers, which is par for the course. Pro gamers also are followed by nutritionists, have monitored sleep patterns and train rigorously.

“Their hand-eye coordination is some of the best in the world,” Nanzer said. “If you think of baseball, the best hitters in the world … their hand-eye coordination is faster than any of them.”

Nomy shed personal light on the subject. He’s from Mexico and came to live in the U.S. when he joined the Shocks. He goes to the gym regularly, eats “a lot of chipotle … protein, avocados, healthy meals,” he said. “I try to stay away from fast foods.”

In terms of what he consumes while playing, his response will surprise no one who’s watched a live tournament: water.

“Stay hydrated,” Nomy said. “It’s good for the kidneys, because you’re sitting down all the time.”

Nanzer described Overwatch as “a six-versus-six competitive game, similar to football.” It has offense and defense, and objectives. Pro players must be at least 18 years old, creating a pathway for younger players to prove themselves before going pro.

It’s “the perfect game to build a sports league on top of because it’s easy to learn and difficult to master,” the holy grail of great esports.

The result of this foundation is Overwatch League, “a global professional esports league” that could perhaps be the football of esports: a sport people can enjoy watching around a living room even if they don’t play. (Old Spice is already a sponsor.)

“Our goal was to create something easy to follow for fans that people would understand,” Nanzer said. “One issue with esports in the past 20 years is that it’s big, people have heard of it, but no one could understand it.”

Like traditional sports, and marking a sea change in esports, OWL has city-based teams (like San Francisco’s Shock team).

“That city-based anchor is something we’ve seen catch on quickly,” Nanzer said. “It’s given millions of gamers a reason to care. … If they’ve been on the periphery of esports but never engaged.” Suddenly it’s like, “holy shit—you guys have a New York team, and there’s Boston, so I know who to hate! Those rivalries are built in, and it’s caught on.”

Today, OWL is home to 140 players representing 18 different nationalities. Nanzer calls them “a group of global influencers,” and the power of that influence speaks for itself. “There is no live sport in the world delivering 13- to 30-year-olds,” he said. “That’s what we’re delivering.”

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