MINNEAPOLIS — On the cusp of the Call of Duty League’s opening competition to be held in Minneapolis Friday, Activision Blizzard announced a new, exclusive streaming rights deal with Google to broadcast matches for that league, Overwatch League and Hearthstone esports on YouTube. The deal does not include broadcast rights for China.

Terms of the deal, which also includes Google providing cloud services for game hosting, AI for viewing experiences, and data analytics, were not disclosed.

Given their shared ownership by Activision Blizzard, it’s not surprising to see the rights for the leagues linked — but it is surprising to see them bundled together. In an interview last week with The Esports Observer, Activision Blizzard Esports President and CEO Pete Vlastelica noted that there was an increased number of interested parties in the Overwatch League’s rights this cycle, and “appreciation for the value” as well.

In efforts to derive the most value from broadcast rights, most traditional sports leagues have segmented their broadcasts into various packages, with the NFL, for instance, auctioning off separately its rights to broadcast Sunday and Monday Night Football from its weekly Sunday matchups, which it also splits between two networks.

The announcement of this new streaming agreement follows the conclusion of a two-year $90 million deal between Blizzard and Twitch for Overwatch League streaming rights. (Note: Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post.)

In addition to Twitch, OWL’s homepage and Activision-owned MLG.com, matches were also shown on ABC, Disney XD, ESPN, and ESPN+ last year. Terms of that deal with the Disney family of networks were not disclosed.

Call of Duty League’s predecessor, the Call of Duty World League, made matches available for viewing last year on MLG.com, Twitch and on PlayStation 4’s in-game Live Event Viewer. PS4 was a title sponsor of the league.

Riot Games’s 13 esports leagues around the world for League of Legends, which all culminate in the world’s most watched esports championship, have been broadcast on more than 30 different platforms, including ESPN+, SYFY Channel (the founders’ org, Misfits, has a League of Legends European Championship Series team and U.S. OWL team), Weibo.com, Twitch and Facebook. The LCS deal with ESPN+, which is nonexclusive, replaced a prior exclusive agreement with Major League Baseball and Disney-owned BAMTECH. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2016 that the deal was seven years, beginning in December 2016, and was worth at least $300 million. BAMTech’s rights extended beyond streaming however, and included sales and tech development rights as well.

Though esports rights deals have reached into the millions, they are still just a fraction of the value of the television deals struck by traditional sports leagues. The richest of those is the NFL’s $27 billion deal over nine years with NBC, CBS and Fox. The football league has separate deals with ESPN and AT&T-owned DirecTV each worth more than $1 billion annually, in addition to a streaming deal with Amazon, which was reportedly worth $50 million for one year, in 2017.

Broadcast rights have been one of the biggest drivers of revenue for traditional sports leagues, and esports leagues hope to eventually replicate that stream as audiences for competitive gaming continue to develop. Last season, the Overwatch Grand Finals — the league’s championship event — drew 1.12 million average viewers in terms of Nielsen’s average minute audience metric, up 16 percent from the first Grand Finals in 2018. Average minute audience, or AMA, counts viewers on digital platforms such as Twitch as well as an ABC broadcast of the event, and includes live views and those coming within the first 24 hours of a rebroadcast.

Overwatch and Call of Duty League teams owners paid upward of $20 million for the rights to franchises, according to reports, and those ranks include a number of owners from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.

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