Activision Blizzard Opens ESports Division With Former ESPN and MLG Execs At Helm

Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher Activision Blizzard announced a new eSports division on Wednesday to tackle the growing competitive video game scene. The eSports genre has seen a steady, if not explosive, rise in popularity and many of the publisher’s games are right in the thick of it. Leading the effort will be a sports entertainment veteran from the halls of ESPN and NFL Network, along with a one of the founders of Major League Gaming (MLG).

Former CEO of ESPN and the NFL Network Steve Bornstein will serve as the Activision Blizzard’s Chairman of the eSports division. Meanwhile, former MLG co-founder and President Mike Sepso will move into the Senior Vice President chair.

Activision Blizzard has a number of top-tier eSport titles under its belt already and is continuing to grow. Call of Duty and StarCraft II are among the most popular competitive games, while newer titles such as Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone have quickly found an audience, including a Heroes of the Dorm collegiate eSports tournament for the former that was televised on ESPN 2 earlier this year.

The Blizzard lineup of games will have their world championships at BlizzCon in November. Meanwhile, Call of Duty just announced a new World League, so Activision can run its own eSports tournaments for the shooter.

Call of Duty 2015 European Championships
“Celebrating our players and their unique skill, dedication and commitment is the essence of our eSports initiatives,” said Bobby Kotick, Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard. “Blizzard Entertainment and Activision Publishing have been leaders in the development of eSports. With that leadership, our strong franchises, our deep history and experience in eSports, and now two additional industry leaders, we intend to further enhance our efforts and make certain this remains an important growth driver for Activision Blizzard.”

Kotick added, “There are no better leaders for this new initiative than Steve and Mike. Steve has unparalleled experience in creating a sports network powerhouse and his groundbreaking leadership at ESPN and the NFL Network shaped how the whole world experiences sports. Mike’s entrepreneurial vision helped make ‘eSports’ a household word and he is uniquely positioned to take the experience to the next level.”

“Last year, Activision Blizzard created entertainment that was viewed and played by over 150 million people for more than 13 billion hours,” said Steve Bornstein, Chairman of the new division and former CEO of ESPN and the NFL Network. “I believe eSports will rival the biggest traditional sports leagues in terms of future opportunities, and between advertising, ticket sales, licensing, sponsorships and merchandising, there are tremendous growth areas for this nascent industry. I’m excited to help Activision Blizzard further its leadership position in eSports.”

Heroes of the Dorm (PC)
Bornstein was part of ESPN just a few months after the cable sports network first debuted in 1980. He quickly climbed the ladder and became the channel’s youngest CEO in 1990 at the age of 38. In his time as CEO, he oversaw the launch of ESPNRadio, ESPN 2, ESPNews, ESPN Classic, and ESPN the Magazine. He was also the creative force behind staples from SportsCenter and Outside the Lines to the X Games and Winter X Games.

The executive left ESPN in 1996 for ABC Sports and later became responsible for all ABC programming when he became president of the broadcast channel in 1999. He left in 2003 to launch the NFL Network and has overseen the professional football league’s media growth and oversaw the negotiations that saw NFL Monday Night Football move to ESPN in a deal worth more than one billion dollars.

Boorstein retired officially in 2013, as reported by Awful Announcing. The new eSports division of Activision Blizzard has an invaluable wealth of experience at negotiating the media landscape in their new Chairman, however.

Call of Duty World League
“As a member of the eSports community for over 12 years, I couldn’t be more excited for the future of the sport. I am confident that the company’s industry-leading content will capture the many opportunities we have to entertain and celebrate our players,” said Mike Sepso, Senior Vice President for Activision Blizzard. “Activision Blizzard is uniquely positioned to give millions of fans around the world what they want, and I’m excited to help support this community in a way that honors its history.”

Sespo founded Major League Gaming in 2002 with Sundance DiGiovanni. The professional gaming league was created to turn competitive video game play into viable spectator events and helped establish eSports as a more common phrase used in everyday language. The organizer has put together tournaments for everything from Halo to League of Legends to Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat. MLG currently has its own dedicated premium streaming service at mlg.tv, but has partnered with the likes of ESPN in the past.

[Image via BattleNet]