In light of the COVID-19 pandemic — which games like Hades have so perfectly represented — Activision Blizzard will allow OWL and CDL teams to defer multimillion-dollar franchise fees, according to two top execs in the leagues. Activision has acknowledged that financial challenges have emerged for competitive gaming leagues since the coronavirus crisis has made in-person events nearly impossible to schedule.
The pandemic had made international travel difficult for the third season of the OWL and the live tournament events scheduled for the inaugural season of the CDL in North America. In July, the Esports Observer reported that the leagues and franchise owners were negotiating “some form of financial relief,” including delaying franchise payments.
Activision doesn’t only oversee the CDL and the OWL. Ten of the 12 investors in the CDL also have teams in the OWL. In 2020, both leagues had expected to host live events that would attract thousands of fans and generate revenue through ticket sales, merchandise and sponsorships.
“It’s a tough year for everybody,” said Philadelphia Fusion President Tucker Roberts. “They’ve worked with us to make sure there’s support.”
The first franchise slots into OWL and CDL were reportedly sold for $20 million and $25 million, respectively. Each year, franchise owners must pay a predetermined portion of the original fee. If teams defer their payment this year, the cost will be spread among future payments.
Although it was a setback for OWL to have to cancel live events, the league managed to restructure the back half of the season to a monthly tournament model. The league eventually reported that the second week of OWL playoffs was the most-watched of the season, with 375,000 live and on-demand viewers. The Grand Finals will begin on October 8.
Meanwhile, CDL had a successful end to its inaugural season with the Dallas Empire beating the Atlanta Faze in the most-watched CoD esports event ever. Still, both leagues hope to return to live events as soon as possible.
“For us, we’re in this for the long haul,” said Chris Overholt, president and chief executive of the company behind the Toronto Defiant and the Toronto Ultra. “When you take that long-term view to the industry the conversation becomes, I think, a lot, a lot easier.”
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