TORONTO — OverActive Media president and CEO Chris Overholt says he can envision jerseys for his organization’s esports teams hanging next to NHL and NBA gear in sports stores, and scoring updates for its Toronto-based “Overwatch” and “Call of Duty” franchises announced on SportsCentre.
He says OAM’s partnership with Bell is a step toward that vision.
Bell and OAM announced Thursday that the Canadian communications giant has acquired a minority stake in the esports organization and has become the organization’s first founding marketing partner.
In a release, OAM said the multi-year agreement will make Bell the exclusive telecommunications partner of OAM. The deal covers team sponsorship, content integration and traditional and online advertising.
“This is big in so many ways for us,” Overholt said a phone interview from London with The Canadian Press. ”We have not only a new great strategic marketing partner that will allow for distribution of our content, but we have a brand new strategic investor which I hope would signal to investors just what a serious industry this is becoming and what a serious player we are in the esports ecosystem.”
OAM, which counts Canadian pop star The Weeknd as one of its owners, is the only esports organization to own teams in three major franchised leagues: League of Legends, Overwatch League and the soon to be launched Call of Duty League. The Defiant Overwatch team and a soon-to-be-named Call of Duty team are based in Toronto, while the League of Legends team is based in Europe.
The organization also owns esports franchises in Montreal, the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Spain and South Korea.
“Bell is excited to invest in OAM to further our support of Canada’s rapidly growing esports community,” Bell vice-chair and group president Wade Oosterman said in the release. “With Canada’s best mobile network and an all-fibre network offering the fastest home Internet speeds and lowest latency, Bell looks forward to continuing to provide the best gaming experience as we expand the reach of professional esports to new audiences.”
While specific details on how the partnership with Bell will look as far as distributing content are still being hammered out, Overholt said it will allow OAM to tell its story and dispel some misconceptions around esports and its athletes.
“Our Bell relationship will be very relevant to that,” he said. “Part of conditioning a new audience and a new fan base to think of esports as sport — some of us are already there — but the moment Toronto Defiant scoring updates show up on TSN SportsCentre, the moment the media across Bell’s offerings are reporting on the Toronto Defiant and our future Call of Duty franchise as sport, there will be lots of opportunities to layer on top of that.”
Overholt said OAM’s teams are structured and operated like traditional sports franchises, with a front office, analytics department, doctors and cooks on staff to support athletes and coaches. He said esports athletes ask a lot of their body physically and mentally. He wants this to come across to an audience that may be unfamiliar to esports.
“(The partnership) helps others who are looking in on the industry for perhaps the first time understand that these young men and women are athletes,” he said. “That they have really high cognitive processing ability. That they have the ability to ask of their body in a way that frankly is bordering on superhuman, the mental and physical part of it is really quite extraordinary.”
The Defiant, an expansion team for the 2019 season, are one of two Canadian teams in the Overwatch league along with the Vancouver Titans. The Defiant are currently 12th in the 20-team league with a record of 7-10.
The investment to join the franchise leagues is significant. Overwatch League teams reportedly went for US$20 million apiece, while slots in the Call of Duty league reportedly went for $25 million.
Bell has deep sporting ties in Canada, owning TSN as well as being a co-owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which includes the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argonauts and Toronto FC among other properties.
OAM does not fall under the MLSE umbrella.