In January 2018, Twitch announced that it had signed a two-year deal with Activision to be the "exclusive worldwide third-party provider" of Overwatch League livestreams in all regions outside of China. With the term of that contract now expired, Activision said today that it's signed a new multi-year deal with YouTube for exclusive livestreaming rights for all of Activision's pro esports leagues and events, including the Overwatch League, Call of Duty League, Hearthstone Esports, and World of Warcraft Esports.
"This is an exciting year for Activision Blizzard Esports as we head into the inaugural season of Call of Duty League and our first ever season of homestands for Overwatch League all around the world," Activision Blizzard Esports CEO Pete Vlastelica said.
"It’s our mission to deliver high-quality competitive entertainment that our fans can follow globally, live or on-demand, and to celebrate our players as the superstars that they are. This partnership will help us deliver on that promise at new levels, by combining our passionate communities of fans and players with YouTube’s powerful content platform and exciting history of supporting next-generation entertainment."
Esports lives on @YouTubeGaming. Welcome to the family, Overwatch League, Call of Duty League, and Hearthstone Esports. Let’s get this thing going with the inaugural season of the Call of Duty league kicking off today! https://t.co/9PAUaaQSz0https://t.co/p9kSbD9aAi pic.twitter.com/rBVpf0Re3HJanuary 24, 2020
Along with "premium network quality of service," Activision said the deal will enable it to "tap into Google Cloud's AI tools to offer curated recommendations for in-game offers and differentiated gaming experiences."
"We've worked closely with Activision Blizzard for the past few years across mobile titles to boost its analytics capabilities and overall player experience. We are excited to now expand our relationship and help power one of the largest and most renowned game developers in the world," Google Cloud head of gaming Sunil Rayan said.
The deal is a major win for YouTube, which hasn't been able to make major inroads against Twitch's dominance of livestreaming despite the 2015 launch of competing platform YouTube Gaming. More recently, the field has grown even more competitive, as both Mixer and Facebook have made big pushes of their own. Joining with Activision significantly boosts YouTube's presence as a livestreaming platform, and may also set it apart from other platforms.
"A lot of the focus in the livestreaming wars has been on the individual content creators being signed given that they make up the majority of the content in the space," StreamElements CEO Doron Nir said. "However, esports events are often responsible for the biggest audiences with the two most watched channels on Twitch in 2019 being Riot Games and Overwatch League. This makes YouTube Gaming's announcement of three notable leagues a significant move in terms of building their content portfolio and showcasing their commitment to the market."
The terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but SportsBusiness Journal reported in 2018 that Activision's two-year contract with Twitch was worth at $90 million, so we're not talking about pocket change here. The first event to be livestreamed under the new deal actually took place today with the kickoff of the new Call of Duty League season, which we didn't cover because it's played on PS4. Action of interest to us will begin on February 8, when the 2020 season of the Overwatch League gets underway.