Thousands of people will fill Brooklyn's Barclays Center on July 27 and July 28, but not for basketball, not for hockey and not for a concert. They will be there for the Overwatch League Grand Finals, an e-sports league video game developer Blizzard Entertainment running its popular team-based first person shooter Overwatch
The sold-out finale will end the first season of the Overwatch League , with teams from Philadelphia and London (city teams are a hallmark of the league), who will compete for $ 1.4 million in prizes. The games are broadcast live on ESPN and Disney XD and mark the first time that E-Sports was broadcast live on the main channel of ESPN during prime time, Blizzard says.
Prior to the big event, TIME sat with President and CEO of Blizzard Entertainment Michael Morhaime to discuss the tournament, Overwatch and the broader game industry.
The following questions and answers have been easily edited for length and clarity.
What do you mean? about e-sports in terms of its cultural moment right now? It feels like it's just before the mainstream.
Gaming is now mainstream. That was a shift. If you went back 20 years ago, playing was not really [mainstream]outside of a few places in the world, South Korea was one of them. But the popularity of playing has become more and more mainstream.
It's as big as other forms of entertainment, and so I think it's natural that an organized competitive game would follow. I think people are interested in seeing what they know and what is important to them. As you have more people in which playing is a big part of their lives, they want to see what the top players in the world can do [1
We want gaming and e-sports to be something that fits all who want to come. I'm surprised at the level of toxicity that sometimes exists online, especially where people can say things anonymously. That's something we talk about a lot at Blizzard, and I think there are some good ideas that will have an impact on reducing that.
For some of the players who are all of a sudden In a spotlight like this, it's probably something that has surprised them. But they have to come to terms with the fact that they are now public figures and represent more than just themselves, so they have to take this responsibility seriously if they want to be part of a professional organization.
We are just going through some growing pains as an industry, but I think it is necessary and important.
It's important to be inclusive for business reasons – you want to sell games to female players, to LGBTQ players.
We certainly do. But even more than the business reasons … in which world do we want to live? In what kind of world do we want our children to grow up? And when you think about expanding games to a larger audience, remember that people are going online and making their first experiences, and what should this experience be? They do not want to be exposed to such things.
The Overwatch League has taken steps to ensure that players are paid well in terms of pay, benefits, etc. Why is that so important to you?
It is very important that the top players offer them stability so that they can concentrate on being the best. If you look at traditional sports, this is something that makes the traditional sport very good. You are contracted on a team and you have many things that are like a normal job in which you focus on being the best you can be. Having a minimum wage to have health benefits of having this good environment [helps] to focus on teamwork with the team.
Was there ever a challenge where there may be something for the competitive side of Overwatch but does not feel right for the casual casual gamers?
This is something we deal with in all our games that are e-sports. It is important that the game is balanced on a professional level. And we also need to focus on all levels of the game, and how the choices we make influence those levels as well. It's definitely a balancing act, but it's something that the design team constantly thinks about.
Do you play often?
Did you try? to play against some of these players?
That would not even be entertaining to see. But you know, one of the great things I love about Overwatch is that, regardless of your ability, you can go in there and have a really fun experience. And I do. I can go in there and I can win games and I can play with my nephew who is a lot younger than me and we can go in there and just have a great time. And I'm not very good at the game, so it's pretty great that I can have such a great time playing and going away without feeling that I'm really as bad at the game as I'm likely to be, if you would agree with people who really knew what they were doing.