Activision Blizzard Esports will lay off around 50 employees, according to a report released today by Sports Business Journal. UPDATE: Reports suggest the total figure of laid-off employees is actually closer to 190.
The layoffs come as a cost-saving and restructuring measure, according to the company. While the company emphasized the pandemic as a cause for the layoffs, Activision Blizzard has laid off more than 800 employees over the last two years despite bringing in massive profits and offering CEO payouts.
Last year, Activision Blizzard, which runs the Call of Duty and Overwatch leagues, pivoted from live traveling events known as “homestands” to a purely online format.
“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,” Tony Petitti, Activision Blizzard’s president of sports and entertainment, told Sports Business Journal.
The Overwatch League’s inaugural season started in 2018 and featured live games held at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California. Though the first two years of the League were held in a single location, the goal of the Overwatch League was always to bring games to fans in their hometowns.
“When we launched the league, we divided the teams into Atlantic and Pacific Divisions to prepare for this evolution,” the Overwatch League said in a blog announcing the new League format in 2019. When the Call of Duty League began in 2020, it adopted a similar live event model. Yet, both Leagues, in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic, canceled in-person events last year and switched to an online format. That structure continues for the Call of Duty League, which resumed in February, and for the Overwatch League, which will resume on April 23.
Petitti indicated that the layoffs and restructuring does not spell the end for all live events but was not clear on how these Leagues will look beyond 2021. When asked for comment, a Blizzard spokesperson told Kotaku in an email, “There are no planned changes to the Overwatch League model.”
Whether that means the League has no plans to change its current online model or the former in-person model—once widespread vaccination makes that safe—is unclear.
UPDATE 9 p.m. ET: A report on Bloomberg says that the total number of layoffs today actually “affect less than 2% of the total workforce, or fewer than 190 employees,” with other job losses reported at Candy Crush developers King, which Activision also owns.