Overwatch League' Adds Two New Pro Sports Names to Ranks

By Sarah E. NeedlemanFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Activision Blizzard Inc. netted two more big names in professional sports for the videogame league it expects to launch by the end of the year.

Stan Kroenke, owner of the National Football League's Los Angeles Rams, and his son Josh Kroenke, president of the National Basketball Association's Denver Nuggets, bought the rights to one of two teams that will be based in Los Angeles. Jack Etienne, owner of esports organization Cloud9, bought the rights to a team in London.

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Activision Blizzard plans to announce the new owners Thursday.

The videogame giant is building its esports league around "Overwatch," a team-based shooter videogame with a cartoonish bent that launched in May 2016. The nine teams revealed to date were sold for $20 million apiece, according to people familiar with the matter.

That amount is double the fee Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s Riot Games in June said it planned to charge qualifying teams to join its North American league next year for "League of Legends," a team-based battle game released in 2009.

In esports, teams or individuals compete at videogames, often by controlling virtual characters. Players sport jerseys, have corporate sponsors and vie for million-dollar-plus prize pools. Fans watch matches at stadiums, on live streaming sites such as Amazon.com Inc.'s Twitch and a growing number of television networks.

The Overwatch League will require teams to pay players a minimum annual salary of $50,000 and provide health insurance, a retirement-savings plan, housing and a practice facility.

Others details about the league, though, haven't yet been disclosed, including the start date and where matches will be broadcast.

Fans won't initially have the opportunity to watch local teams compete in stadiums, as Activision Blizzard has said owners are still establishing venues.

Activision Blizzard last month announced the sale of seven other teams. The buyers included groups backed by Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL's New England Patriots, and Jeff Wilpon, operating chief of Major League Baseball's Mets, which bought rights to teams in Boston and New York, respectively.

The other five owners all hail from the videogame industry. Activision Blizzard's publishing partner in China, NetEase Inc., will operate a team in Shanghai; NRG Esports, an established esports outfit, has the rights to a team in San Francisco. Other teams will be based in Seoul, Los Angeles and Miami-Orlando.

Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN on Monday said Activision Blizzard is finalizing a deal to sell the rights to a team in Austin, Texas, to the owner of an esports organization called Team EnVyUs. Activision Blizzard declined to comment on the report.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 10, 2017 01:35 ET (05:35 GMT)