Once a shining example of what esports could become, the Overwatch League may now find itself facing an existential threat.
In the wake of devastating accusations of rampant sexual harassment at Activision-Blizzard, the majority of the Overwatch League’s sponsors have stepped back from the league. Only three of the League’s sponsors remain listed on the official website. Over the past few days, the Overwatch League’s standing sponsors have been whittled down to just Comcast Xfinity.
Activision-Blizzard is currently being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing over alleged gender discrimination at the company. Overwatch League is the company’s premier esports venture with a sequel title in development, but with an uncertain release date. The Overwatch League was the strongest modern attempt by a developer to turn a brand-new title into a major esport. Overwatch’s esports scene is almost entirely centered around Blizzard-run events.
Some of the companies listed above have publicly stated their intent to separate from the League but are still listed on the official partners section of the Overwatch League website. Some of the agreements will stand until the end of the current season, but there are no plans for a renewal. Some of these companies acknowledged the controversy surrounding Blizzard as part of their reason for stepping away from Overwatch League.
“We find these allegations troubling and inconsistent with our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” said Kellogg’s corporate affairs chief Kris Bahner.
In a statement released to The Washington Post, a State Farm spokesperson said that the insurance company is “reevaluating our limited marketing relationship with the Overwatch League.” The company further requested that “no (State Farm) advertisements run during the matches this weekend.”
One of the Overwatch League’s biggest successes was its work with non-endemic companies. Businesses not normally seen of the esports space threw support behind Overwatch League thanks to its regular schedule and traditional sports format. Now, almost all of OWL’s non-endemic sponsors have cut off their support.
A great deal of money has been tied up in Overwatch League, with franchises costing tens of millions of dollars and blockbuster broadcast deals.
Twitch paid an estimated $90 million for exclusive streaming rights to the Overwatch League, ahead of Overwatch League striking a deal with YouTube. Viewership for the Overwatch League has topped out at 180,000 on YouTube with an estimated 1.35 million viewers in China, well below expectations.
Dwindling sponsorships and low viewership does not bode well for Overwatch League’s long-term future. With Overwatch 2 possibly years away from release, things are looking dire.