It’s been a very tough time for a lot of companies in the gaming industry due to the effects of COVID-19. The loss of live eSports events due to COVID restrictions has really hit certain companies hard. One of those has been Activision-Blizzard which on 16 March announced that it would be laying off 190 employees, around 50 of them being from the company’s eSports division. The layoffs also included employees at King.com (the makers of Candy Crush), which is also owned by Activision-Blizzard.
“Players are increasingly choosing to connect with our games digitally and the e-sports 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,” a spokesperson for Activision-Blizzard told Bloomberg in an official statement. According to Bloomberg’s report, employees who have been laid off will receive 3 months of severance pay, 12 months of healthcare benefits and a $200 gift card to Activision-Blizzard’s own Battle.net PC platform.
As the owner of two massive eSports leagues, Activision-Blizzard has placed a huge amount of importance on big, global eSports events for its two most popular games Overwatch and Call of Duty. These events are something that all but went away during the pandemic due to travel restrictions. The massive global events that were planned for 2020 had to shift entirely to an online-only and remotely-produced format.
Whilst it was somewhat of a cause for concern at first, Activision-Blizzard has remained very positive about the future for its big eSports events going forward. In an interview with Sports Business Journal in the wake of the layoffs, President of Sports and Entertainment Tony Petitti said that “we learned a lot last year in terms of how the leagues can be structured for online play, and we’ll look to carry forward the best practices from that.”
“In terms of timing, it’s a reaction to the realities of how the leagues are playing and what resources we need to allocate to best serve the league, owners, teams and fans,” he continued, along with saying that discussions about the layoffs started as far back as August last year because “you never take anything like this lightly”.
Whilst the eSports end of the company’s business interests may have suffered significantly as a result of the pandemic, overall Activision-Blizzard’s finances are looking good. The company’s latest quarterly earnings report, which was released in February 2021, reported that the company’s initial 2020 revenues were actually higher than what Wall Street was expecting. This has largely been credited to the enormous success of the ever-popular Call of Duty franchise and its associated Warzone battle royale title, which capitalised on the emerging popularity of battle royale-style games following the runaway success of Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
Words by Robert Percy
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