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Why Activision is going all eSports, all the time

October 9, 2015, 8:50 PM UTC
2015 Call Of Duty Championship
Photograph by Imeh Akpanudosen — Getty Images for Activision

Activision is upping the ante when it comes to Call of Duty eSports.

With each new Call of Duty game earning over $1 billion at retail, eSports has become an important piece of Activision’s marketing strategy. According to Sam Cooper, senior director for Call of Duty in Activision’s marketing department, in today’s video game business, any successful “AAA” franchise is as focused on post-launch engagement with fans as with the actual launch of the game.

“ESports is part of that engagement platform,” Cooper says. “We have a fan base that plays a lot of hours. We want them to play Call of Duty year-round. Building that community and driving engagement of the game is good for the health of the franchise. That’s a big part of where eSports is going for us.”

Historically, Activision has worked with Major League Gaming (MLG) and other event vendors with Call of Duty eSports, but the publisher is now running its eSports internally. Cooper says that although Activision now owns its eSports initiative, it will still work with various partners around the world. The broadcast plan is to allow fans to watch every match from across the world.

“Global growth is what our fans want and it’s also important for us,” Cooper says. “The World League pro leagues in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific regions is important for that growth. Anyone in other regions can also be involved through the Challenge Series.”

Activision (ATVI) is overseeing the new Call of Duty World League, which includes separate professional (Pro) and amateur (Challenge) divisions that will feed into the Call of Duty Championship. The new league kicks off in January 2016 with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and runs through the fall championship. The game publisher has also expanded its prize pool from $1 million annually to over $3 million beginning in 2016.

“We thought the time was right to take eSports to the next level. We’ve seen a massive, rapid fan base evolve over the years,” Cooper says. “For us, eSports is about engaging our community and fans, and helping to grow this area into a year-round competition.”

MORE: Here’s why eSports is coming soon to a TV near you

This is also the beginning of a new exclusive partnership with Sony, which means all Call of Duty eSports will be played on PlayStation 4 consoles for the first time. Microsoft, which previously served as the lead sponsor of Call of Duty eSports, is now focusing on its own new Halo Championship Series.

Activision’s investment in eSports comes at a time where PC games like Riot Games’ League of Legends, Valve’s Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm and StarCraft II dominate the scene. According to Newzoo, there are 226 million eSports fans around the globe today and that number will increase to 323 million by 2018.

According to Peter Warman, CEO of research firm Newzoo, one of the key factors that will determine the pace of growth of eSports is the involvement of more franchises and genres broadening the audience.

Call of Duty and Halo will give a huge boost to the eSports audience, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe,” Warman says.

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