Activision-Blizzard, which publishes the Call of Duty series of video games and operates the Call of Duty World League (CWL), announced in a February earnings call with investors that the CWL would apply the same franchise model it used for teams in its Overwatch League, which debuted in 2018. That model calls for franchises to be sold to an owner or ownership group and be based in a home city or region, with teams traveling for and hosting competitions following a home-and-away format found in most traditional sports leagues.
The asking price for CWL franchise slots was reported by ESPN to be $25 million. The initial 12 teams in the Overwatch League were sold for a reported $20 million, while expansion teams, including the Justice, that began play in 2019 were reportedly sold for between $30 million and $60 million. Official sale prices have not been disclosed.
Overwatch League owners were previously asked to signal their interest to Activision-Blizzard over purchasing a Call of Duty franchise. They would then be granted initial negotiating rights for their home market.
Competitive video gaming leagues, known collectively as esports, have been growing in both size and stature in recent years as gaming continues to push more into the mainstream. Market analyst site Newzoo projects the esports industry will top $1 billion in revenue in 2019.
There has been no official announcement of when Call of Duty teams would begin play in their local markets. ESPN reported previously that the new geo-located Call of Duty League would be unveiled in 2020, the same year when Overwatch League teams will disperse to their assigned markets. Currently most CWL Pro League matches take place in Columbus, Ohio, at MLG arena.
Unlike the Overwatch League, which revolves around a first-person sci-fi shooter game, Call of Duty presents an additional challenge when it comes to acquiring a large, mainstream audience as a spectator sport. Some media outlets and organizations have been sensitive to the game, the latest version of which earned a “mature” rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board for blood and gore and intense violence, among other factors. Overwatch earned a “teen” rating for some blood and violence.
The Call of Duty game series, however, has been wildly popular from a sales perspective. The latest installment, Black Ops 4, was 2018′s best-selling game, raking in $500 million in the first three days following its October release, according to Activision-Blizzard.
In recent years, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and Events DC — the taxpayer-funded sports and entertainment arm of the District government — have actively pushed Washington as an attractive market for esports. The newly constructed Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast opened in 2018 and featured a wide array of technological infrastructure with the intent of hosting competitive video gaming tournaments.
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