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IBM Enters Esports Arena with Activision Blizzard

Brandon Snow, SVP, Chief Revenue Officer, Activision Blizzard Esports, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss COVID-19's impact on esports.

Video Transcript

BRANDON SNOW: Super excited about our partnership with IBM. You know they-- as you mentioned, it's their first time into the esport business, and what we've got in store for the coming season for the Overwatch League, which is the league that they'll be a partner of ours on, is really going to be cool. It's going to be basically using their AI technology to sort of build interactive stats, stats that learn as the game is being played.

So imagine while you're watching our matches on YouTube, which is where you can exclusively see the Overwatch League, our fans will be able to engage in a much deeper way with what's going-- the action as it's happening. And IBM will be bringing that to the table, using-- using their tech to really get-- imagine stats happening in real time and being able to predict what might be happening in the action in the upcoming piece. It's going to be, I think, mind blowing for what we do in the industry, and we're super excited about partnering with them and their cloud technology to be able to do that.

- Brandon, help me understand. I'm not a luddite, but I am old. I mean, the idea of getting and watching a digital game with these stats-- look, the games are blockbuster. "World of Warcraft," you can't deny with the green that these things earn. But to the people who play these games, what is the payoff for them, that they're going to get this new AI-delivered stats as they're playing these games and watching these competitions?

BRANDON SNOW: So look, the thing you have to think about is, there's 200 million people that have played the game "Call of Duty," right? And while I may be a little bit outside the current age group of 25-year-olds that play it, I've played it in its lifetime. And what we've created is a competitive esport world, no different than what you might see in traditional sports, city-based, local franchises, New York, Chicago, LA, Dallas, playing each other in a five-on-five, a four-on-four, or a six-on-six match, no different than the way that you would watch the Lakers play the Celtics.

The fandom that exists around these teams has the same fandom that you would have if you were going to a New York Knicks game, except that they're playing the game that they love, which is "Call of Duty" in this instance. And so we've tapped into that culture of local fandom tied into fans of the game and who have played this game. And we've brought that to life in competitive sports.

SEANA SMITH: Brandon, how has COVID affected esports? Because on one hand, I guess you can argue it's good for streaming, but then of course, the live events and in-person gatherings clearly haven't been happening--

BRANDON SNOW: Yeah. Yeah, it was-- it changed. It changed a lot. You know, as you mentioned, COVID has been great to the gaming industry, right. There's been something like 7.5 billion hours of gaming content streamed and consumed over the last year. But our model, as you mentioned, has these local events in it, right, and this idea of two teams playing each other in a local market, and we had to pivot. We definitely had to pivot and go online.

The benefit is, is our product is an online product. You play this game online, and it is a digitally centered and native product. And so while the rest of the sports world took a pretty significant pause in their live events, we were able to take about two weeks off. We shipped rigs to all of our players' houses and homes and apartments, and we were back online and running our-- our games online, no different than, perhaps, how we were doing it in an event, other than we just didn't have an audience.

We had the occasional cat or dog walking across the background while these guys were playing, but other than that, we were able to pull it off. And we got better and better as the year went and culminated in a final that was fully online, that had the most views ever for our final match on YouTube, with over 340,000 concurrent views of our final. So a lot happened, but we were able to make it happen and get back online pretty quickly.

- What are the payoff purses for the competitors who are playing in these kinds of things? And I imagine that's only going to get bigger.

BRANDON SNOW: Yeah, we have a $5 million purse for our finals, and then we have different tournaments throughout the season that have different prize pools as well.

SEANA SMITH: Brandon, what do you see just in terms of some of those industry trends as we head into 2021? Because I think, going back to what we were just talking about with COVID, it's a very unstable marketing environment. I think it's introduced a lot of challenges here for a number of companies across a wide range of industries. But what are you seeing just in terms of esports?

BRANDON SNOW: So one of the thing-- I come from the world of traditional sports, and one of the things that I really value about what gaming and esports brings to the table is measurement. You're watching our product in a digital atmosphere, right. And if you're a marketer or an advertiser and you're a partner of a product like ours, it's a lot more measurable, the investment you're making, right.

So as an example, when you [INAUDIBLE] able to get into not only the traditional sports types of programs like IP rights or events, they also can be partners in our broadcast. We bring brands into the broadcast, because we own and control the broadcast. So now you're able to deliver media value into the broadcast to a one-stop partnership, rather than having to have a deal with a traditional broadcaster and then the IP rights holder, and then perhaps the teams and the players. You do it all through us. And so that value exchange is quite high, because now your media dollars are working more harder for you, and they're more measurable because it's living in the digital space like YouTube.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Brandon Snow, senior vice president and chief revenue officer at Activision Blizzard Esports. Great to have you on the program. We wish you all the best. Thanks for taking the time.

BRANDON SNOW: Thanks for having me.