Esports is coming to Toronto in a major way.
Video game publisher Activision Blizzard is finalizing a deal to sell a Toronto franchise in the company’s Overwatch League (OWL) to an ownership group led by Canadian entrepreneur Michael Kimel and multi-game esports organization Splyce, ESPN’s Jacob Wolf is reporting.
The expansion slot will cost this ownership group approximately $35 million, the Sports Business Journal reports.
According to Wolf, this Toronto ownership group will receive funding from Kimel and his family, including his real estate mogul uncle Ron, and Splyce investor OverActive Media Group, an apparently Toronto-based company focused on “excellence in esports ownership.”
While pretty new to esports, Kimel is no stranger to the world of professional sports as he owns a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Penguins. Additionally, he’s the co-founder of Toronto restaurant group Chase Hospitality Group.
Splyce is a multi-game professional esports organization that’s currently backed, ironically if you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, by Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs’ Delaware North hospitality company.
Splyce, as the ESPN report says, will own 10 per cent of this forthcoming Toronto-based OWL team, and will be at the helm of the operation.
Having just finished its inaugural season, the OWL, which originally consisted of 12 teams, is reportedly looking to expand to 18 for its second season, with two coming from the North American region.
The league has already confirmed Atlanta and Guangzhou, China as two teams joining the league, meaning Toronto would be the only other North American city to receive a franchise in this round of expansion.
The inaugural season of the OWL concluded on July 28, with the London Spitfire defeating the Philadelphia Fusion during the Grand Finals at a sold-out Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
There’s been nothing official named about a Toronto team yet, but should these reports end up being true, fans can likely expect to see regulation play beginning in January. However, actually seeing the team play live and in-person may prove to be a little challenging as every team – including ones representing cities in China and South Korea – played in Los Angeles at Activision Blizzard’s Blizzard Arena.
And this Toronto OWL club would, technically, be the second major pro Overwatch team in the city because OWL minor league Overwatch Contenders has the team Toronto Esports – affiliated to the Boston Uprising.
A Toronto-based OWL team is further evidence of Canada’s push into the burgeoning space of esports with such highlights as Toronto hosting the 2016 North American League of Legends Championship Series summer finals, the Toronto Raptors’ NBA 2K League team Raptors Uprising GC and the forthcoming The International 2018 DOTA 2 tournament that will take over Rogers Place in Vancouver from Aug. 20-25.
Next up for Overwatch-specific Canadian esports will be the Overwatch World Cup and Team Canada, which will be trying to qualify for the tournament’s finals at BlizzCon in a September qualifier.
Overwatch is a popular first-person shooter video game from publisher/developer Activision Blizzard that pits a team of six against each other.