Comcast Buys Philadelphia Esports Team

  • Cable TV company acquires rights to Philadelphia franchise
  • League also announces owners of Dallas, Houston teams

Comcast Corp. is among the latest round of investors in the new Overwatch esports league founded by video-game maker Activision Blizzard Inc.

The largest U.S. cable TV operator is acquiring the rights to the Philadelphia team, which will compete in tournaments centered around Overwatch, a cartoonish shooting game released last year by Activision that has attracted 30 million players worldwide. Comcast’s participation in the nascent esports industry adds another deep-pocketed backer to a league that has attracted investors including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Stanley Kroenke of the Los Angeles Rams.

“We’re very focused on the theme that this is premium content,” said Pete Vlastelica, chief executive of Activision’s Major League Gaming division. “I think Comcast coming in is validation of that.”

Esports, where professional contestants play video games before live and online audiences, is a growth business for video-game companies. The business has attracted investments from many traditional sports team owners looking to connect with younger audiences and buy in at a fraction of the cost of other pro teams. Activision is charging team owners a franchise fee of $20 million. 

Riot Games, a unit of Tencent Holdings Ltd., is expected to announce shortly the team owners for its League of Legends series.

Flyers, NBC

Comcast, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers hockey franchise and the Wells Fargo Center where the team plays, also bought the rights to a professional lacrosse team and a minor league hockey team this year. The Philadelphia-based company also owns the NBC broadcast network and the Universal Studios film and theme-park business.

There are 300,000 Overwatch players in the Philadelphia area, said Dave Scott, chief executive of Comcast Spectacor, the company’s sports and live events business. The company is in the process of hiring a coach and players as well as looking for an arena seating less than 5,000 people.

“We like the idea of hosting events, bringing in fans and growing this market,” Scott said.

Activision, based in Santa Monica, California, announced two other Overwatch League owners Wednesday. Team Envy, backed by Hersh Family Investments, will control the Dallas franchise, while OpTic Gaming, founded by video-game player and web personality Hector Rodriguez, got the Houston rights.

Team Envy was founded 10 years ago by Mike Rufail, a professional video gamer who said he got his start playing Activision’s Call of Duty. Rufail said he’s raised an “eight-figure sum” for a training facility, corporate headquarters and support staff in Dallas.

Activision now has 12 Overwatch League teams in place in Asia, Europe and North America. They’ll begin preseason play Dec. 6, with regular competition running Jan. 10 through the finals in July. All games in the first season will played at Activision’s new 450-seat studio space in Burbank, California.

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