Blizzard has taken a huge leap forwards in bringing esports to a wider audience. As Blizzard announced today, Overwatch League will now be broadcast on the ESPN, Disney, and ABC family of networks.
The multi-year broadcast deal ensures that the Overwatch League playoffs—as well as the Season 1 grand finals and all of next year’s Overwatch League Season 2—will be broadcast live, leading to hundreds of hours of programming. Channels include the entire ESPN network, ESPN2, Disney XD, ABC, and other associated streaming services, in addition to the Twitch broadcasts and other streaming deals Blizzard already has in place for online viewers.
“We are turning the corner here in terms of our interest and engagement in the esports category,” ESPN vice president of digital media programming John Lasker said on ESPN.com. “We’ve had an interest and have been watching pretty closely how the first year of the Overwatch League has been progressing, and we’re really excited to be a part of this.
“Clearly by the way we’re going to be covering it starting with the playoffs and the finals this year certainly speaks volumes to our excitement and our enthusiasm overall for esports moving forward.”
This isn’t the first time ESPN or Disney has broadcast esports events, but it’s the biggest deal that’s been struck so far. While shows like Heroes of the Dorm and the Capcom Cup Street Fighter V finals have been broadcast, this is the first deal meant to last multiple years and to be shown so broadly. The goal is to reach a new demographic that may be interested in hardcore gameplay but doesn’t necessarily watch competitions on platforms such as Twitch.
“It’s a cross section that’s a hardcore sports fan, especially on ESPN channels,” said Pete Vlastelica, Activision Blizzard’s president and CEO of esports leagues. “They love watching competition, they love watching the best in the world compete at a great game. Maybe they have played video games. Maybe they know of Overwatch. Maybe they even play Overwatch or play it a lot. But they’re fundamentally looking to be entertained by the highest possible level of competition around a great game. And that’s what we’ve got.”
The very first broadcast kicks off tonight at 5 p.m PT on Disney XD and ESPN3. It will show the match between Philadelphia fusion and Boston Uprising, the first match of the Overwatch League quarterfinals. The full broadcast schedule can be seen below.