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When the geolocated Call of Duty (CoD) franchise league begins play in 2020, it will have 12 total teams—and 10 of those franchise owners already have teams in Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League (OWL). Both leagues will see all teams host matches in their respective home markets in 2020, but only three of those organizations already have the experience of planning and executing an OWL homestand weekend.
The Dallas Fuel, Atlanta Reign, and Los Angeles Valiant hosted the first Overwatch League homestands this season, marking the first time that regular-season OWL matches had taken place outside of Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California. It was a stepping stone into 2020’s larger-scale plans, and for the three organizations—which have since acquired Call of Duty league franchises—it was a valuable experience as they now look ahead to shaping home events across multiple leagues.
The Esports Observer recently spoke with representatives from all three teams about their OWL homestand experiences and 2020 ambitions, and each also spoke about how their Call of Duty plans are shaping up. Activision Blizzard still has yet to announce specific details on the format for home matches, but the Fuel, Reign, and Valiant reps were willing to share perspective on whether the events will resemble their respective OWL homestand efforts, as well as how to build upon the history of Call of Duty esports events.
A Different Target
All three teams suggested that while there will be similarities to how they tackle the Call of Duty events compared to their respective OWL homestands, there are key differences in who the audience will be and how they need to serve those fans with a live experience.
“It’s a different crowd. It’s a different event. We don’t have total clarity on how we will do the CoD events and properly engage all of those fans,” said Atlanta Reign President and CEO Paul Hamilton, whose organization owns the Atlanta CoD spot. “All I’ve been thinking about outside of our playoff run is Call of Duty at this moment. We have been working on branding and players, the home venue, and all of those things. We’ll apply the same sort of stuff that we did here. We’ll spare no expense to throw the best event that engages that fan specifically and what they love.”
Immortals Gaming Club (IGC) acquired the OpTic Gaming brand—which has a storied Call of Duty history—earlier this year, and then bought a Los Angeles franchise slot in the league. IGC CEO Ari Segal spoke about maintaining a similar overall philosophy towards Call of Duty events as it does for its LA Valiant events, but said that trying to execute the exact same plan across multiple leagues isn’t likely to be successful for anyone.
“The challenge and opportunity is to figure out the right manifestation of that DNA and your values to deliver the right value to the right customer or community,” said Segal. “The Overwatch League community and Call of Duty community are not necessarily the same. There perhaps is some overlap, but it’s pretty small. But to say that the exact same things that work in Overwatch are going to work in Call of Duty I think would be overly simplistic and foolish, and probably miss both markets.”
Envy Gaming is sure to have its hands full with live events in 2020, as the organization’s Dallas Fuel has committed to hosting five Overwatch League homestands across at least three different venues (the final two homestand locations have yet to be announced), plus it will host Call of Duty events. Justin Rojas, vice president of events and social media at Envy Gaming, said that his team’s familiarity with Dallas venues will help, and that hosting events in both leagues might open up opportunities to streamline costs and efforts.
“Luckily, since we’re already exploring these venues, we have a good idea of what they’re capable of and what we’re capable of accomplishing within each,” said Rojas. “That’s a huge help, especially if you’re thinking about the utilization of a venue maybe consecutively, and being able to save costs on certain things like that—or to move in and move out certain items, if you can stack some things together to create efficiencies working in both Overwatch and Call of Duty. Those are all logistical things that we’re figuring out.”
Hamilton said that there’s still a lot of learning to be done across the board. After all, there have only been three Overwatch League homestands to date, while teams will collectively host 52 total OWL homestands in 2020. Add Call of Duty on top of that, and there’s sure to be plenty of experimentation along the way. According to Hamilton, having so many ownership groups all learning at the same time means they can all learn from each other, as well.
“It’s really neat, because when you go see what other people come up with, a lot of times you see these ideas where it’s like, ‘Wow, that would’ve been amazing, I didn’t think of that.’ It brings to life another idea,” he said. “This will be a learning process for us all, including Overwatch, even though we did three [homestands], now to really see what everyone does. Everyone will have some unique ideas of which of them work. Whatever we see that will spark the fan experience the best, we’ll want to do that, or at least spark a conversation around how we could maybe do it better. We’ll do the same thing in Call of Duty.”
Learning from the Past
There has never been a geolocated, franchised Call of Duty league, but the first-person shooter series has a rich competitive history dating back to 2006. In recent years, Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty World League awarded millions of dollars per year in prizing while hosting major events across North America and Europe. The franchise owners we spoke with suggested that there’s plenty to learn from that history when planning out their respective home events.
“I’m so glad I’m in Dallas,” said Rojas. “Dallas is a city that’s already had multiple Call of Duty events. That’s a huge benefit for us to gauge the interest, and see how those events performed and what they’ve done. That gives us a nice comfort level of being able to take what has happened in the past and put our own spin on it, using the things that we’ve done as well. I think from a local sponsorship side, we’re already proving that there is value; again, having Call of Duty events be here already, some sponsors have already engaged that space too.”
Segal echoed that message, noting that Activision Blizzard had held Call of Duty events in Anaheim, California, as well as elsewhere around the United States. Not only has that engaged a fan base that has turned out for those events, but it also provides an example that teams can point to when recruiting sponsors for the franchised league.
“There’s a routine and habit of people in this market coming out to live Call of Duty events,” said Segal of the Los Angeles area. “That gives us a really nice advantage, and gives us a nice head start to sell off of in the sponsorship community.”
Hamilton added that the significant crossover in ownership with the Overwatch League is a significant advantage with bringing on sponsors for the new league, as well. “One of the ways [to hit the ground running] is you point to Overwatch League,” he said. “There’s so much crossover in ownership groups, it’s like, ‘OK, we’ve done it now. We’ve showed you that we can do it.’”
Segal said that one of the key elements of past Call of Duty events is the ability for attendees to play games onsite, whether it’s through open-bracket tournaments or via gameplay activations at sponsors’ booths. He pointed to activations that Mountain Dew has executed with its Game Fuel brand, and said that OpTic Gaming will keep that lesson in mind when planning home events for 2020. “In Call of Duty, we will need to focus on making sure to preserve that part of the fan experience,” he said.
“The next several months really are just about architecting how we’re going to take the amazing venues we have access to, and the history and legacy of successful live Call of Duty events, and merge those under the OpTic Gaming umbrella,” Segal added.
Esports Forum at Twickenham Stadium – Oct.9 | Next month during Sports Business Summit TEO is hosting the Esports Forum inviting sports and esports executives to network and discuss the future of sports entertainment.
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