Activision Blizzard Esports CEO and Overwatch League commissioner Pete Vlastelica will leave his post for a new role within the company following next week’s Overwatch League Grand Finals, the company said in a statement on Thursday.
“Pete Vlastelica, CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports and Commissioner of the Overwatch League, will transition from his role in ABE to focus on new entrepreneurial ventures on behalf of Activision Blizzard, following the Overwatch League Grand Finals,” an Activision Blizzard Esports spokesperson said in a statement. “He was instrumental in building the company’s esports business and driving the industry forward, and we thank Pete for his contributions and impact on our business over the last four years.”
It’s currently unclear who will replace Vlastelica in the role.
Activision Blizzard issued the statement after Esports Observer reported that Vlastelica was stepping down from the post. The move comes just over a year after former OWL commissioner Nate Nanzer exited the post in May 2019 to join “Fortnite” developer Epic Games.
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It’s been an undeniably tough year for sports at large as the coronavirus pandemic halted large in-person gatherings. However, Activision Blizzard’s two big esports leagues, Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, went into the 2020 season with a large focus on city-based events and a full home-and-away model that could no longer happen as COVID-19 gripped much of the world. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Activision Blizzard was allowing OWL and CDL teams to defer franchise fees this year to soften some of the financial damage brought on by the pandemic.
Overwatch League did eventually continue, pivoting to remote matches and broadcast. It initially struggled to pull in comparable viewership to previous seasons on its new, exclusive partner of YouTube, but found a silver lining by experimenting with a high-stakes tournament model over the summer, which saw numbers quickly begin to trend upward. Week 2 of OWL playoffs last month scored the best viewership of the season with 375K global live+3 average minute audience (AMA), according to the league.
In an interview with Variety the day before the new broke, Vlastelica acknowledged the challenges that OWL faced in reformatting its entire season in the face of coronavirus. But he noted that he was “incredibly proud” of how the league pushed forward, especially as traditional sports screeched to a halt.
“We did a few experiments last year with homestands, but this was the first year that we were going to go into two seasons spent playing all of our regular season matches in Los Angeles,” he said. “There was a lot of work done over the past three years to get ready for this home-and-away season. And then four homestands in — after four really solid homestands, sold-out crowds, screaming fans, great competition, venue looked and felt just right for the product that we had put together — after four of those, coronavirus hit.”
After the pandemic forced lockdown orders, the league took a two-week hiatus in March, figuring out how to have their players compete remotely as well as allow their production crew to work from home.
“We managed to put together a season that I think really worked,” he added.
He also expressed excitement for the storylines going into the Grand Finals, which will see the top two North American teams (San Francisco Shock and Philadelphia Fusion) face off against the top two Asian teams (Seoul Dynasty and Shanghai Dragons).
“Having the Shanghai Dragons as a favorite to win the Grand Finals is a fantastic story,” he says. “That’s a team that’s really turned things around from a 0-40 season in 2018 … to being the owners of the season’s best record in 2020, and having this year’s league MVP. Globally, this is one of many storylines that’s getting people excited to tune in.”
The Overwatch League Grand Finals will take place Oct. 8-10 in South Korea.