This is the second year of the three-year, $160M USD media-rights deal with YouTube, but this offseason was the first full one where the sides could work together to plan for the upcoming campaigns, because the original pact was struck just before the 2020 campaign started.
One of the main features Activision Blizzard Esports and YouTube Gaming are looking to improve on this year is account linking, something that Overwatch League has done for years dating back to its time on Twitch. CDL at the end of last season started testing account linking for the first time as Call of Duty esports traditionally didn’t have such a feature.
Now, Activision Blizzard Esports is rolling out the function for the full season for CDL, and bringing it back for OWL, and YouTube Gaming head Ryan Wyatt earlier this week began to reveal the bonus items that will be earned this season. That includes weapon charms, emblems, calling cards and XP tokens. Brandon Snow, chief commercial officer of Activision Blizzard Esports, told SBJ that the rewards will be part of a tiered system based on how much time one watches CDL action and that there will also be “high end” items like operator skins.
CDL is preparing to announce its slate of official sponsors for the 2021 season and is working with YouTube on new sponsorship broadcast integrations that have yet to be announced. Sponsors last year included PlayStation, Mountain Dew Amp Game Fuel, and U.S. Air Force.
Activision Blizzard Esports is also set to unveil a new fantasy pick-em game for OWL that will allow users to enter every tournament (instead of having to play along during the entirety of the season), along with a new statistics tool in collaboration with IBM and what Snow says will be improved broadcast production from YouTube.
After viewership figures last year on YouTube that for OWL were lower than what the league had gotten the prior year on Twitch, Snow said it is “critically important” to grow viewership this year and that he’s confident both OWL and CDL will see that growth in 2021. He said that is “not only because of the products and engagements we’re launching, but also the structures of the league now and that we have a year of operating remotely under our belt now – we learned a lot (in 2020).”
Both CDL and OWL saw viewership start to rise toward the end of the season; for example, the CDL championship peaked at 331K viewers on YouTube, its highest mark of the season. Still, industry execs would like to see the numbers grow more as team owners try to justify the eight-figure sums spent on franchise fees.
Snow said that Activision Blizzard Esports has internal data suggesting that the account linking and other engagement tools will help viewership grow, though he did not disclose specific projections. Activision Blizzard Esports is also counting on the addition of 100 Thieves and the return of the Optic brand in CDL this year to help grow that league’s interest.
“We’re going to grow them both,” Snow said. “I feel really good about the show we’re going to put on.”
The CDL regular season starts next month on Feb. 11.
YouTube Gaming saw significant growth last year as it started spending more on esports media rights, but Wyatt also attributed the growth to rises in mobile gaming, from emerging markets and due to stay at home orders resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
He said Call of Duty Esports “continues to just surpass our expectations,” and pointed to the account linking as a “great way to celebrate the relationship between gamers and publishers.”