ESPN to Air Overwatch League Finals as Esports Go Prime Time

(Bloomberg) -- Walt Disney Co. will air the playoffs and finals of the Overwatch League on ESPN and other networks under a multiyear deal with Activision Blizzard Inc. that underscores the growing popularity of professional video-game competition.

Live coverage starts July 11 with the playoffs on the Disney XD channel. ESPN will show the finals live starting July 27 at 7 p.m. New York time, with a second day planned on Disney XD and ESPN3. The championship will be broadcast from the Barclays Center in New York, where both days are sold out.

The Overwatch title came out in 2016 and its popularity led to the creation of a professional league, with players vying in a cartoonish shooting game to control points on a map. Activision sold 12 city-based franchises at $20 million each to investors including Comcast Corp. and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for the inaugural season that started in January. The New York Excelsior are in first place. Six teams will qualify for the playoffs.

In a report last month, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicted that esports, as the professional competitions are called, will have 276 million viewers worldwide by 2022, on a par with the National Football League. Total revenue could reach $3 billion by then, up from $655 million last year.

Separately, Goldman Sachs said the company’s growing focus on mobile games and plans to bring mobile titles to China could add $7 a share in value. That contributed to a 3.2 percent rise in Activision shares in New York.

Activision rose 3.2 percent to $78.61 in New York.

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