Earlier this year, we reported that Activision Blizzard had some big plans for 2021, including an increased $4.25 million prize pool for their signature Overwatch League tournament, as well as the promise of a ‘restructuring’ of their esports department to follow.
News of that restructure surfaced this week with a total of 50 employees at the companies esports department losing their jobs as a result of the streamlining efforts.
Activision Blizzard’s president of sports and entertainment, Tony Petitti announced the news this week as part of an overarching scheme to allow the company to focus less on organising live events, moving towards a model where more events are organised online.
Mr. Petitti didn’t specify which areas of the esports department were being cut back, but he did state that the company had begun the process of informing those who have lost their jobs and that they are in the process of agreeing on severance packages with those individuals.
The decision will enable Activision Blizzard to cut costs and also reallocate resources within the department to facilitate the shift in focus.
Online Play The Future For Activision Blizzard?
It seems that the enforced move to online gameplay due to the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact across the esports industry and has led companies like Activision Blizzard, who had been heavily invested in their signature live events, to rethink their reliance on such tournaments.
Mr. Petitti did confirm that the company would not turn its back on live events entirely, but that the company was firmly focusing on optimizing its most popular leagues and events for online play.
“We learned a lot last year in terms of how the leagues can be structured for online play, and we’ll look to carry forward the best practices from that,” stated Mr. Petitti.
“In terms of timing, it’s a reaction to the realities of how the leagues are playing and what resources we need to allocate to best serve the league, owners, teams and fans.”
Part of the reasoning for the change in focus from live to online events is also the growth in the Call of Duty League which has seen a large growth in viewership, as well as other metrics, since moving into an online format.
Activision Blizzard sees this as clear evidence that online-based tournament play can be a way for esports tournaments to grow in popularity.
Given that the Overwatch League has a newly boosted prize pool of $4.25 million, plus the increasing popularity of the Call of Duty League, it seems that Activision’s future does seem to be based online.
Have Companies Read The Data Right For Online V Live Gaming Experiences?
While the data may suggest moving online is a prudent move for companies, there is a danger that they could well be reading too much into data that has been taken at what is an incredibly unusual time for the industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of life in many and varied ways. The move online for the esports industry was a no-brainer in many ways, and of course, fans have flocked to view their events online as a result. This has led to a ‘boom’ in the industry in 2020 and beyond.
However, in a post COVID-19 world, will there be the same lack of interest in live events? Many of these big live events are hugely popular around the world and attract many thousands of attendees. Many engaging in cosplay, buying merchandise, and such.
The danger for Activision Blizzard by moving to a more online approach is that they are assuming that humans will be happy for this to continue in a post-COVID-19 world.
And there is absolutely no evidence that this will be the case.