OWL head: Overwatch esports ‘not going away anytime soon’

Sean Miller, the head of the Overwatch League for Activision Blizzard Esports, remains optimistic about the direction of the game as an eport and the future of the circuit as it begins its sixth season.

In a recent interview with Dexerto, Miller touched upon potential YouTube exclusivity for the league, co-streaming, investment in the product, the inclusion of Contenders teams in Tier 1, the evolving situation with China, the lowering of age restrictions and the Chengdu Hunters’ reported disbandment.

“We’re obviously always assessing what matters most to the fans and the players, and keeping a pulse on other publishers and what they do,” Miller said.

“If anything, we’re committed to Overwatch esports and growing a community, bolstering it. … To me, it shows a strong commitment to Overwatch esports. They’re not going away anytime soon.”

Miller’s comments are in opposition to statements by Activision in its filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Thursday.

The company wrote, “Our collaborative arrangements for our professional esports leagues (i.e., the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty League) continue to face headwinds which are negatively impacting the operations and, potentially, the longevity of the leagues under the current business model. We continue to work to address these challenges, which could result in significant costs, and such efforts may prove unsuccessful.”

Regarding the inclusion of the Contenders and the challenges involved in making it part of Tier 1 Overwatch, Miller called it a “seismic shift” and said it’s his goal as the leader of Overwatch esports to “create compelling competitive communities all across the globe and at all competitive levels.”

When asked about the status of the OWL and YouTube deal, Miller said he appreciated YouTube’s commitment to the league but couldn’t comment further.

Switching gears to the subject of co-streaming, Miller is all for it.

“I actually think co-streaming is a very effective way to get your product out into different parts of the community that may or may not be interested in watching the main broadcast,” Miller said.

“We’ve had discussions around YouTube co-streaming and how we can make it more appealing for creators that are on YouTube to do it, etc. It’s very much a part of the conversation.”

Asked what success would look like for the league this year, Miller said authenticity, participation and viewership are vital, along with evolving the league.

“What matters for us there is participation and engagement,” he said. “We want people to see that they’re engaging. And obviously, at the OWL level, not everyone can be a pro. That’s kind of the reason that there’s a pro level, you know? So, the metric depends on what exact part of the ecosystem you’re talking about.”

On the subject of the Overwatch Chinese servers getting shut down, Miller lauded the Chinese organizations that OWL have been working with closely.

“They’re really incredible partners,” he said. “… I have nothing but positive things to say about our partners in China.”

Regarding the departure of Chengdu, Miller said, “Obviously, the Hunters will continue to contemplate the future direction of their team as we said, and we’ll continue to work closely with them on that front.”

Miller said the reason for changing the league’s minimum age this year was to integrate Contenders more in the East.

“As we looked across different esports titles as well as the average age of Contenders players in the East, we found that, if we want to be able to make the competition even more compelling for, you know, teenagers and others that may want to participate in this esport — particularly the orgs, like if you think about O2 Blast, Panthera, all these really awesome orgs out in the East, it’d be wonderful if they didn’t have to blow up their ecosystem.”

–Field Level Media

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