Shares of Activision Blizzard (ATVI - Free Report) surged to a new all-time high on Thursday after the video gaming powerhouse debuted its new “Overwatch” esports league to much fanfare on Amazon’s (AMZN - Free Report) live-streaming site Twitch on Wednesday night.
The inaugural matches of the regular season of the 12-team Overwatch league kicked off yesterday. Fans were able to take in the three-match slate on Twitch, Major League Gaming platforms, as well as OverwatchLeague.com and its new app.
Overwatch team owners reportedly paid $20 million to purchase franchises. Ownership groups include Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, along with other owners of mainstream U.S. professional sports franchises (also read: Esports is The Next Billion Dollar Industry: 3 Stocks to Watch).
Esports have been on the rise for the last few years, but Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch league is one of the first major tests of a model similar to that of other professional sports. In the first season, the league features 12 city-based teams split into two divisions.
Teams from Los Angeles, Dallas, London, Shanghai, Seoul, and other major metropolitan areas are set to compete in the six-month regular season that runs from Jan. 10 until June 16. A postseason and an all-star weekend are also scheduled.
Game days currently feature three different head-to-head matchups a night. Teams are set to play twice a week during a slate of games that run Wednesday through Saturday nights.
The Overwatch league’s long and packed schedule, with an array of different viewing options for fans, should give Activision Blizzard the chance to cash in from advertisers. Wednesday night’s slate has already been viewed a total of 4.4 million times on Twitch.
Activision Blizzard, along with the likes of Take-Two Interactive (TTWO - Free Report) —which is set to tip off its NBA franchise-backed NBA 2K esports league later this year—hope that these more polished products, which feature official teams in uniforms with fans in attendance and multiple broadcasts in different languages, will attract the average sports fan.
Yet, even if just esports fans and video game players tune in, the Overwatch league could easily be a hit. According to market research firm Newzoo, the average esports fan is between 21 and 35, which is a highly sought after advertising democratic—and much younger than the NFL and MLB’s audience on average. On top of that, the firm projected that around 191 million people around the world would watch at least one esports competition a month in 2017.
Activision Blizzard stock surged over 3% to reach a new all-time high of nearly $69 per share on Thursday, as investors seem pleased with the prospect of a potentially massively popular world-wide esports league. Before today’s climb, shares of Activision Blizzard had soared over 70% in the last 52-weeks.
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