GamesBeat: How do you feel about the investment in esports teams? There are some people who’ve said that maybe the better investments will be in startups around the infrastructure, something like that.
Levin: We’re investors in Mobcrush, which is live streaming for mobile gaming. We were the only media company that invested in the early rounds. We’ve invested in original content, both scripted and unscripted, around esports. You’ll be hearing more about that. But I think anybody who — it’s the first pitch of the first inning of a nine-inning game with esports. I feel fantastic about our investment in Immortals and Valiant, particularly in light of the early metrics from Activision.
Will there be bumps in the road? Absolutely. Will there be course corrections in the marketplace? Absolutely. If you’re this for a short, get in and get out, it’s the shiny new toy, this may not be your thing. But that’s not our perspective. We’ve already done several cooperations between Lionsgate and the Valiant and Immortals, everything from promoting private screenings of The Commuter — watch it with the LA Valiant in our screening room — to jersey representation for upcoming releases of films and TV shows, to having the teams attend worldwide premieres and leveraging their social media footprints and getting that messaging out to a very desirable demographic. We have original content opportunities as well.
I see it as very early days. I’m not at all skeptical. If we have a drop of cynicism or skepticism, we wouldn’t have done this. But it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. What Bobby and his team have done is put a major foundational block in place and set that bar very high. That’s great for the entire industry. We see there’s plenty of room for multiple winners. Whether that’s on the casual side or on the mid-core side, whether it’s existing titles that have been around a long time like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike [or] emerging titles like Overwatch. At the end of the day, it’s a relatively new game, and look what it’s been able to do.
GamesBeat: How would you compare something like Overwatch or [PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds] to Counter-Strike in that respect?
Levin: When you look at games like [PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds] and Fortnite, it’s just phenomenal what those titles have been able to do. That being said, they appeal to a more hardcore audience. Just because of the nature of the games, you’re going to also appeal to different distributors and brands and marketers. More than likely, because of the more family-friendly nature of Overwatch, the diversified characteristics of the characters — gender and body type and more — it affords us a broader portfolio of prospective partnerships. But what Counter-Strike has been able to do internationally for years in the esports scene — in their own way, they set the bar very, very high.
GamesBeat: Are there any other sorts of investments that might also be distracting in some way, other investment categories of interest?
Levin: For us right now, we have a nice portfolio of companies that we’re working with on the investment side and on the development and production side. Since I began at Lionsgate, we’re now creeping up to 40 projects in various forms of production and development and in the wild. We have a pretty full slate. Esports is just going to be a welcome addition to the business as a whole. It appeals to so many parts of our business — content, intellectual property, location-based entertainment.
We have AEG as a partner. This is a company that does hundreds of millions of dollars in sales of sponsorship and advertising. They own the Staples Center. They own the Kings and the Lakers. You can tell that their sponsorship and ad-sales guys are very fired up about playing with this brand new inventory. They’re working hand in hand with us to put those relationships in place.
We have this fun new thing to work with that’s garnering a tremendous amount of attention but also traction. That’s the key. If this thing came out and kind of tapered off, there would be much less enthusiasm to deploy against it the way everyone has.
I want to impress on you again how impressed we have been with Bobby Kotick and the whole team at Activision Blizzard. Not that we’ve been surprised because no other publisher fires on all cylinders the way they do. Whether it’s console, mobile, PC, or now esports, you can’t count those guys out.
GamesBeat: What else would you like to say?
Levin: What Bobby and his team have crystalized is the very discreet difference between the publishing of a global sensation, competitive esports gaming title — which is perhaps, one of the hardest things to do in media — and the standing up of a 21st century, next-generation competitive league. Overwatch has achieved that rarified air of the first criteria while Activision Blizzard has simultaneously defined what it means to operate a world-class esports league.
Operators operate. Bobby was in our very first meeting on Overwatch League, was on every follow up call, was at the door greeting every owner at our first owner’s meeting, and has hired a team of executives around him with the highest levels of sport, live events, and gaming acumen and DNA. No delegation going on at OWL, and it shows in the quality of the product.
With major shareholders like AEG, Michael Milken, and Lionsgate, the idea that we can interact and inter-operate principal to principal is game changing with Activision Blizzard. Bobby has built a culture and structure that has the league, his publishing engine, and the owners working hand in hand with aligned interests.
And Wednesday’s match of the Los Angeles Valiant vs. the LA Gladiators (owned by the L.A. Rams owner Stan Kroenke) is being talked about as one of if not the most competitive Overwatch League matches having taken place thus far. Starting off with a 0-2 score, the LA Valiant roared back with a reverse sweep to claim a 3-2 victory.
The match was absolutely bananas, and the Twitch numbers were increasing during the last 30 minutes of a 6-hour broadcast.