IBM Inks Its First-Ever Esports Deal With The Overwatch League

The Overwatch League Grand Finals weekend is underway and although we’re in the middle of the biggest pro Overwatch event of the year, Activision Blizzard is already looking towards the future. It has signed a multi-year deal with IBM. The league will use IBM’s cloud and artificial intelligence tech to “power analytical and interactive content” in its broadcasts.  

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“We’re constantly striving to give fans the ability to more meaningfully engage with the Overwatch League, and teaming up with IBM enables us to do just that,” Brandon Snow, chief revenue officer of Activision Blizzard Esports, said in a statement.

“IBM’s cutting-edge AI and machine learning, underpinned by cloud technologies, will help enable us to bring interactive and innovative engagement opportunities to our fans and teams,” Snow added. “This is a fantastic benefit to our viewers, and we’re very excited to be announcing it during the biggest event of our season.”

This marks IBM’s first-ever esports deal. Starting next year, the league will tap into IBM’s machine learning and natural-language processing smarts to improve the OWL rankings systems. It will also harness Watson AI for live predictive analysis.

The specifics of what the Overwatch League will actually do with all of that are a work in progress. What is clear is that Blizzard will use Watson and IBM’s analytics tools to process in-match data. The publisher and IBM will also explore new ways to highlight the historical statistics that the Overwatch League has tracked from players and teams.

Anyone who’s watched an Overwatch League broadcast, especially in the last year or so, will know that Blizzard does a great job of using stats to provide context and tell stories about players and teams. Fans have been able to dig into player data themselves this year through the Stats Lab.

With three years of data to draw from, IBM and Blizzard should be able to unearth some fascinating insights. IBM is a technology partner for many other sports organizations, teams and brands, including in tennis (US Open and Wimbledon), golf (The Masters) and football (ESPN Fantasy Football), and it certainly knows how to get value out of troves of athlete data.

There’s a sponsorship element to the deal as well. IBM is the presenting partner for the Overwatch League Grand Finals. It will also be OWL’s AI, machine learning, cloud and analytics sponsor until the end of the 2022 season. 

“We’re thrilled to bring our world-class cloud platforms and Watson portfolio to one of the leading esports platforms in the world,” Noah Syken, IBM’s vice president of sports and entertainment partnerships, said. “The solutions we’re partnering to create can help the organizations, players, and fans enjoy an even more immersive, engaging experience. We look forward to working with the Overwatch League, to bring innovative solutions at scale, to broad and relevant audiences.”

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The Overwatch League Grand Finals continue at 5AM ET on Friday when the top-ranked teams from each region, San Francisco Shock and Shanghai Dragons, duke it out for a spot in the championship match. 

Since this is a double-elimination tournament, the losing side will get a second chance. They’ll face either Seoul Dynasty or Philadelphia Fusion later in the day for the second spot in Saturday’s championship match. The final two teams will battle for the Overwatch League title and a $1.5 million top prize.

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