OverActive Media rides out pandemic, looks to broaden esports footprint in the

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on December 22, 2020.

The Toronto Ultra, who play in the Call of Duty League, are one of four major esports teams owned by OverActive Media, which is looking to become the MLSE of esports. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-OverActive Media MANDATORY CREDIT

TORONTO – Chris Overholt describes 2020 as “the fastest two years of my life.”

But the president and CEO of OverActive Media has also seen plenty of positives for his esports company despite the confines of the global pandemic.

“Nobody, of course, would wish what’s gone on in the world on any of us,” Overholt said in an interview. “But I actually do think that whatever curve we imagined gaming and the esports industry to be on when we started all of this, I would say it’s definitely been accelerated in the last eight or nine months in particular.”

Overholt, the former CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, cites research suggesting there are more gamers today among Gen. Z and Millennials in Canada than there are “declared sports fans.” He says 70 per cent of people in that group identify themselves as gamers compared to 61 per cent who call themselves traditional sports fans.

“That statistic in itself kind of confirms our business thesis, that we have a whole generation of fans that think about sports and think about media in different ways. And they’re consuming it in different ways.”

Overholt says 5.7 million Canadians consider themselves gamers, up 33 per cent over the previous year. And 60 per cent of them are new Canadians – 50 per cent are women – “so this audience actually looks like this nation looks. And that’s exciting.”

“We feel fortunate to be in the place where we are,” said Overholt.

Being a gamer does not necessarily mean an interest in esports, however.

Overholt, who was the Toronto Raptors’ director of corporate marketing from 1996 to ’98 before serving as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s vice-president of sales and services from 1998 to 2003, compares it to the early days of the Raptors’ NBA life.

The challenge then was how to translate a general interest in basketball into demand for Raptors merchandise and games on TV.

“I think a lot of those lessons are applicable to our business today,” he said.

The initial OverActive vision was one team in one league. Two years on, it owns franchises in the Overwatch League (Toronto Defiant), Call of Duty League (Toronto Ultra), European League of Legends (MAD Lions, playing out of Spain) and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (also MAD Lions).

“Four franchises in the biggest and most important (esports) leagues in the world,” said Overholt. “We’ve raised $80 million in private investment in OverActive Media over the last two years.”

In August, TD Bank signed on as the official bank of the Defiant in the bank’s first foray into esports. Sponsors…

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