How the Maker of Call of Duty Plans to Become the ‘ESPN of Esports’

Activision Blizzard expands livestreaming capabilities

The maker of games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft says it will soon be the "NFL juggernaut of esports."

At its debut Digital Content Newfronts presentation today at PlayStation Theater in New York, Activision Blizzard Media Networks, the broadcasting arm of Activision Blizzard, unveiled plans to grow its monthly audience by expanding its livestreaming capabilities thanks to a new integration with Facebook Live and an algorithm that provides real-time data.

In June, at a two-day Call of Duty tournament in California, the company will try to tap into Facebook's 1.6 billion worldwide users when it starts livestreaming competitions on the social network.

Activision Blizzard has spent the past few months building out its broadcast capabilities after acquiring Major League Gaming in January in a move to create what it calls the "ESPN of esports." (Activision Blizzard Media Networks' chairman is Steve Bornstein, the former CEO of ESPN.)

According to Mike Sepso, svp of Activision Blizzard Media Networks, the company now has around 500 million monthly users across its games. Sepso pointed out that's nearly as big as the combined monthly active user base of Twitter and Snapchat.

"In fact, we've been streaming esports live since before YouTube even existed," Sepso said. "And we've grown [Major League Gaming] from a startup to a global powerhouse that continues to shape esports culture."

Sepso said the vertical integration of Activision Blizzard—from making the games to hosting in-person competitions to streaming it all online—allows the the company to pair its fan base with brands. In an interview after the presentation, Sepso said some viewers spend up to three hours at a time watching live competitions. He said that on April 2, the night of the NCAA Tournament's semifinals, viewership peaked at 1.6 million.

According to a report by market research firm Newzoo, the esports market is expected to grow 43 percent from $325 million in 2015 to $493 million in 2016—and then to $1.1 billion by 2019.

"I think the important thing to understand about this audience is this tremendous passion point," Sepso said. "It's not a typical part of the mainstream media mix, but our fans are super passionate about esports. It's really a part of their culture and lifestyle, so you're going to see us position our brand partners as hero brands who are supporting this activity for our fan base."