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Activision Blizzard lays off roughly 50 esports employees as online events grow in priority

Overwatch League logo
(Image credit: Activision)

A Sports Business Journal report says Activision Blizzard Esports will lay off roughly 50 employees as it prepares to reduce its focus on live events in both the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League.

The leagues were envisioned as operating similarly to conventional sports leagues when they launched, with a heavy focus on city-based teams competing in front of live audiences. But the Covid-19 outbreak forced a move to online events and it sounds like the company might maintain that approach even after the pandemic is over.

"We learned a lot last year in terms of how the leagues can be structured for online play, and we’ll look to carry forward the best practices from that," Activision Blizzard Sports and Entertainment president Tony Petitti told Sports Business Journal. "In terms of timing, it’s a reaction to the realities of how the leagues are playing and what resources we need to allocate to best serve the league, owners, teams and fans."

Activision Blizzard isn't looking to drop live events completely, Petitti said, noting that discussions about structural changes to the league predated his arrival at the company in August 2020. Activision Blizzard said something very similar in a separate statement confirming the layoffs.

"Players are increasingly choosing to connect with our games digitally. Everything we do is through the lens of our players, and over the past year, we have been exploring how we might best serve their needs," an Activision Blizzard rep said. “The esports team, much like traditional sports, entertainment, and broadcasting industries, has had to adapt its business due to the impact the pandemic has had on live events. We retained a vast majority of the team throughout a complex year and these changes were not made lightly, particularly in the current environment. We are taking extensive steps to ease the transition for all affected employees.

"Live events are still very much a part of both the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League strategies. We plan to get back to them as soon as it's safe to do so and logistically feasible."

US employees who were laid off will get a minimum of 90 days severance pay, health benefits for a year, and $200 Battle.net gift cards, the rep said.

Aside from its impact on live events, Covid-19 has caused problems for individual Overwatch League teams as well. In May 2020 the Vancouver Titans released its entire roster, saying the pandemic created too many challenges for a Vancouver-based team with a roster from South Korea, and in January 2021 the LA Valiant made a similar move, dropping its players in preparation for competition in China as part of the East region.

Bloomberg reports that there were layoffs in other Activision Blizzard departments today, too, including at subsidiary King.com. According to that site, a source familiar with today's events puts the total number of jobs lost at somewhere below 190.  

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.