Activision Blizzard is finalizing agreements for two Overwatch League expansion slots with organizations representing Paris and Guangzhou, China, league sources told ESPN. More teams are expected to join the league before Season 2.
The Paris slot will be the second Activision Blizzard has sold in Europe if agreements finalize as expected, and it will be owned by McCourt Global, the Los Angeles-based holding company that also owns French soccer team Olympique de Marseille, according to sources.
The Guangzhou spot will be bought by the Nenking Group, the umbrella company of Chinese billionaire Zhong Naixiong and the ownership group of Chinese Basketball Association team Guangzhou Long-Lions, sources said.
Paris and Guangzhou lead the way for the expansion of the Overwatch League, which launched in January and has seen unprecedented financial success in esports sponsorship and broadcasting rights sales. The league anticipates to sell six expansion slots within the next month, with a focus outside of the United States. Of the 12 current teams in the league, nine are U.S.-based and the ownership of two of the non-American teams are based in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. McCourt Global and Overwatch League declined to comment. Nenking Group could not be reached before publication.
Season 2 expansion slots in the Overwatch League are expected to sell for a range of $30 million to $60 million, sources told ESPN in June. The specific price for the regional rights is determined by a number of factors, including the number of bidders, Overwatch player density and general population in that specific city.
Prior to purchasing Olympique de Marseille in August 2016, McCourt Global founder Frank McCourt previously owned the Los Angeles Dodgers. His company also owns the operating rights to the Los Angeles Marathon and a slew of parking lots around arenas.
During his ownership, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy in 2011, which was followed by a six-month legal battle between McCourt and then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig. In March 2012, McCourt reached a deal to sell the Dodgers for $2 billion to Guggenheim Baseball Management, a group led by financial services executive Mark Walter that includes NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and a number of other partners.
In Guangzhou, Nenking invests in and develops both commercial and residential real estate, as well as in sports, pharmaceuticals and finance. Its owner, Zhong, was estimated to have a net worth of $1 billion in 2016, according to Forbes. The Guangzhou team will become the second Chinese team in the Overwatch League -- the first being the Shanghai Dragons, who were founded by NetEase, a Chinese internet technology company that also distributes Blizzard Entertainment titles in China.
On Friday and Saturday, the Overwatch League will host its inaugural grand finals at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Several prospective future franchise owners are expected to be in attendance to meet with Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer and Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues president and CEO Pete Vlastelica, among other league execs, sources said.
The league was conceived throughout 2016 and 2017 and had company support across all of not only Blizzard, but at the executive level of Activision Blizzard, the parent company whose market cap was $59 billion as of Thursday morning. Kotick, a lifetime businessman who became the CEO of Activision in 1990, before the Activision and Blizzard merger in 2007 and 2008, has been integral in recruiting buyers into the league.
The slots for Season 1 of the league sold for $20 million each to the likes of New England Patriots ownership the Kraft Group, New York Mets sister company Sterling.VC and Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Rams owners the Kroenke family.
Since its launch in January, the Overwatch League has become one of the most successful leagues in all of esports.
The league has sold well over $200 million in sponsorship and broadcasting sales; its sponsors include Intel, HP Omen, Toyota, T-Mobile, Spotify and more, with many of these deals valued at over $10 million, sources said. Activision Blizzard also has struck broadcasting rights deals with Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch, for $90 million over the course of two years, and Disney -- which consists of live programming hours on Disney XD and several ESPN channels. Disney is the parent company of ESPN.