Petitti was mainly hired to boost Activision Blizzard’s two city-based esports leagues, Overwatch League and Call of Duty League and help take their televised product and live event business to the next level. He brings media experience and leadership as the original CEO of MLB Network, an executive producer at CBS Sports heading up its NFL coverage and a programming director at ABC Sports. Petitti will try to help Activision Blizzard reach fans and create exciting content, bringing needed leadership to the esports part of its business.
Petitti said that Kotick reached out to him a few months ago about the global opportunities in the esports space and how his experiences both at a major pro sports league and major sports networks in scheduling, production, media, content generation, special events and postseason play would uniquely help the company grow Overwatch League and Call of Duty League.
“It just felt like it lined up perfectly in a space that’s already growing, but really poised for increased growth,” he said. “I love baseball, so we went through a lot to get to that point [to leave] but it was the right decision.”
For Activision Blizzard, 2020 was supposed to be the grand culmination of its esports vision, the first full year where its two leagues were going to have live events in its home markets from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to Toronto, London, Paris, Shanghai and Seoul. The coronavirus pandemic had other ideas.
“As soon as we get back to operating in local markets, I think you’re gonna see in-person experiences that rival traditional sports,” Kotick, who’s been Activision’s CEO since 1991, said. “We’re in the first inning when you think about the opportunities around the world. I think there’s an enormous opportunity for us to build and grow those in their local markets.”
Kotick is excited for the combination of the leagues’ global city base with the connectivity gaming has generated over the last several months during the pandemic, along with how live esports can bring people together like it does in traditional sports. What Activision Blizzard now wants to do, he said, is make the spectator experience even more accessible and available, which will eventually drive more interest and enthusiasm from a broader audience. Those are things Petitti has done, Kotick said, at MLB, MLB Network, CBS and ABC.
“When you look at what he’s done at baseball, there’s been a lot of innovation and an enormous amount of operational excellence,” Kotick said. “Tony is well regarded as being both strategic and incredibly operationally capable. And as we go and take what is now a few hundred million dollar a year business and grow it, and you start to have to execute local markets around the world, I think there isn’t a better person than I could’ve chosen to actually take the esports initiatives and our entertainment initiatives to the next level.”
That next level features content and media based around player and team profiles around their professional league as well as highlighting amateur and collegiate esports players and teams looking to achieve their dream of playing in the Overwatch or Call of Duty Leagues.
“That hasn’t been something we’ve done a lot of to date,” Kotick said.
One storytelling example Kotick mentioned was how many of Overwatch League’s players are from Korea and didn’t speak much interest upon arriving in the U.S. to continue their pro careers. The played had to live together in houses in the U.S. and get by and figure out how to find friendships and relationships that would sustain themselves in order to achieve pro excellence. Those are the types of stories that Kotick thinks Petitti can drive interest in over the coming months as he builds up the media profiles and content base of both leagues.
Petitti departs from Major League Baseball at an interesting time, where contentious negotiations between owners and players led to a delayed and pandemic shortened start to the 2020 season. And two teams have suffered large COVID-19 outbreaks that have led to the postponement of numerous games. None of that, he said, had anything to do with leaving for Activision Blizzard at this time.
“If you look at our owners, our clubs and our players,” Petitti said, “they are doing everything they can to complete the season for MLB’s fans.”
Though baseball’s dealt with a ton more turbulence of late, Activision Blizzard has had to deal with an unexpected issue that began late last week with President Trump’s executive order targeting Chinese companies Tencent and TikTok parent company ByteDance. Tencent owns a minority stake in Activision Blizzard, which sent the stock down roughly 5% on Friday.
“They don’t have a board seat, I don’t even think they have a vote. They don’t have any confidential information,” Kotick said of Tencent. “I don’t think owning a less than 4% stake in our company has any consequence in any way.”
Activision Blizzard announced record-setting second quarter numbers last week buoyed by the global interest in Call of Duty during the pandemic. Kotick said that engagement numbers in the popular title are definitely up, with more than 75 million CoD Warzone players and over 200 million downloads of the game’s free mobile version, which launched in October.
“This model of being on every device in every geography, at every touch point,” Kotick said, “that’s what’s really critical for the growth of esports in the future.”
That includes CoD, Overwatch and other Activision Blizzard titles like World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo. If those franchises can deliver continuous content through live operations, Kotick said, and are available on multiple devices around the world, then all his titles can grow in the same way Call of Duty has of late.
In hiring Petitti, Activision Blizzard hopes that he can bring the global success MLB has enjoyed and bring it to both Overwatch League and Call of Duty League in the near future.