Blizzard’s Eternal Struggle – Esports Aiming to Fail?

Activision-Blizzard is one of the biggest players in the esports world. A new game launched by them is all but guaranteed to get a proper launch as an esport. After all, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, and Call of Duty are all part of the Activision-Blizzard line-up.

As such, one might assume that Blizzard is the ultimate trendsetter and ring-leader of all things esports… except that somehow, they’re NOT. While yes, thanks to Activision-Blizzard’s incredible financial power their esports games are all but guaranteed esports status, none of them are doing particularly well.

The Overwatch League is struggling and has been for a while. Heroes of the Storm died pretty quickly and pretty early, and the esports side of World of Warcraft is hardly known outside of the game’s specific player audience. CoD is doing well, Hearthstone on the other hand isn’t – and StarCraft II is still mostly focused around the Korean and Asian markets, with much fewer players in other regions.

What’s the issue?

Well, it’s not as easy to say as saying that all of Blizzard’s esports struggles are because of one problem… but there is definitely some common ground between games. The most obvious issue to mention is that the company is notoriously slow to listen to the community when it comes to making changes. They’re also somewhat hesitant to really add new events or experiment with formats. Esports is all about innovation and working WITH fans – and Activision-Blizzard is pretty weak there.

Another factor is the slow/difficult road to pro in many of their games. It’s prohibitively difficult for even skilled players to get a shot at pro play in Overwatch and co – the entry bar is much lower in other games, leading to more frequent changes in talent, which ultimately leads to better matches for fans.

Activision Blizzard esports

Walking in the wrong direction

Naturally, it’s no secret that things in the esports world could be going better for Activision-Blizzard, and they are definitely making changes – but whether that’s for better or for worse is another question entirely.

Just a few days ago, the company made an announcement of a ‘restructure’ – in other words, an excuse to fire a bunch of employees. As justification, they gave the Covid epidemic, and the changes that it brought over the last season. For what it’s worth, the employees that are losing their jobs will receive severance packages, however, that is unlikely to be much of a consolation in the current economy.

Some 50 jobs specifically around live events to do with the OWL and CoD League will be ‘restructured’ away, since there haven’t been many live events, and won’t be for some time. “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,” said Tony Petitti, who joined Activision Blizzard as president of sports and entertainment last August. “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.”

Not all bad

Of course, it’d be wrong to say that nothing Activision-Blizzard does is right. In fact, they’ve done some pretty positive things – for example, their conditions for Overwatch pros ensure fair compensation, down-time, and protection against willful dismissal. They actually restructured the OWL after its first season to significantly reduce the impact playing had on players’ stress levels.

For games like Starcraft II, Activision-Blizzard has kept up and maintained the esport for many years longer than most esports manage to make headlines – and other Blizzard esports have set records of their own. Still, there is plenty of room for improvement… and lay-offs probably aren’t the way to go.

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Mel Hawthorne

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