By Jim Roberts
Peter Vlastelica, CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues, has seen the popular Overwatch game played in front of hundreds of people, even thousands, he says. But this weekend, he’ll watch the breakout hit played in front of 20,000 fans at the Overwatch Grand Finals in Brooklyn.
And he’s ready to be dazzled.
“I’m most excited about the first moment that fans jump out of their seats and start screaming,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s going to stop. I think it’s going to be that for the entire match tomorrow.”
In an interview with Cheddar on the eve of the Grand Finals between the Philadelphia Fusion and the London Spitfire, Vlastelica said that the spectacle that will unfold at Barclays Center is a direct consequence of how the Overwatch was put together.
The goal, he said, was to create “something that looked familiar to the kinds of companies and partners that are used to participating in an ecosystem around a sports league. That hadn’t really existed in eSports before this.”
“eSports had been this sort of grass-roots, bottom-up, really exciting, but not especially well-structured industry,” he said. “So in this league we wanted to do things completely differently, go a little more from the top down, and design a structure that looked like a sports league.”
This weekend’s tournament at Barclays is even more extraordinary considering the fact that the league is only in its inaugural year, having been launched in January. Yet when tickets went on sale, the 20,000-seat arena sold out in a matter of days.
In an interview with Cheddar last month, Overwatch Commissioner Nate Nanzer attributed the overnight success to the decision to attach teams to cities to develop local fan bases.
"What you see in eSports is the fandom around Overwatch Leagueーaround these cities. It manifests in exactly the same way that you see fandom manifest in traditional sports," Nanzer said. "We wanted to make an eSports league that was really easy to follow and really easy to be a fan of."
According to Vlastelica, fans will be the ultimate beneficiary of that strategy, whether they’re watching at the Barclays Center or on ESPN or Disney XD.
“We’re going to get maximum Overwatch this weekend,” he said.
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