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Activision Blizzard Lays Off 50 Esports Employees as In-Person Live Events Remain Stalled

Activision Blizzard
Courtesy of Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard is pink-slipping about 50 staffers across its esports operations, which include the Overwatch League, Call of Duty League and other tournaments. The company cited the shift away from live in-person events during COVID-19 for the layoffs.

The video-game company confirmed the layoffs but didn’t say what percentage of the esports employee base that represents. As of Dec. 31, 2020, Activision Blizzard had a total of about 9,500 employees, of which 65% were based in North America.

“Players are increasingly choosing to connect with our games digitally. Everything we do is through the lens of our players, and over the past year, we have been exploring how we might best serve their needs,” an Activision Blizzard rep said in a statement to Variety. “The esports team, much like traditional sports, entertainment, and broadcasting industries, has had to adapt its business due to the impact the pandemic has had on live events.”

In 2020, the company rep said, “We retained a vast majority of the team throughout a complex year and these changes were not made lightly, particularly in the current environment.” Activision Blizzard is “taking extensive steps to ease the transition for all affected employees,” including providing at least 90 days of severance pay for staffers in the U.S.

On Activision Blizzard’s fourth quarter 2020 earnings call, CEO Bobby Kotick touted its upcoming esports events.

Regarding the second season of the Call of Duty League, which kicked off in February, Kotick said, “Fans will get to enjoy even more large-scale competitive play this season as its 12-city-based teams compete in a new tournament-style format in the Black Ops Cold War era.” He said that “Call of Duty” entered 2021 “with the largest player community it has ever had to start a year.”

In addition, Kotick said the Overwatch team “continues to engage its community with in-game content and to celebrate its players in the Overwatch League where teams are preparing for the start of the 2021 season in April.”

For Q4 2020, Activision Blizzard reported net revenue of $2.41 billion, up 22% year over year, and net income of $508 million, down from $525 million in the year-prior period.