The American company behind the Call of Duty video games is creating a professional esports league for its wildly successful Overwatch game, with events staged in sporting arenas around the world and prize-money running into millions.
Bobby Kotik, chief executive of Activision Blizzard, said that he hoped to sell entire teams in the Overwatch league, or stakes in them, to the owners of clubs in English football’s Premier League.
He is also targeting the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association in the United States as part of a drive to take esports into the mainstream.
Watching people play video games has grown from a grassroots activity to become a huge global business, with top players earning millions of dollars. Live events attract tens of thousands of spectators and are streamed to audiences of millions. Even the gambling industry has adapted to this boom with the development of hundreds of esports betting sites.
Mr Kotik said that he had received indications of interest from owners of traditional sports teams, including leading English football clubs. He said that each team in the Overwatch league would be based in a big city around the world and that players would get proper employment contracts, with the opportunity to be traded on a transfer market.
The venture would provide mainstream sports team owners with new commercial opportunities. “Almost 40 per cent of our players don’t watch traditional sports and a very high proportion don’t watch television. This is a new audience,” Mr Kotik said.
Overwatch, which has 20 million players, is a team-based shooter game featuring a cast of 23 fantasy heroes. Its league season will begin in 2017.