Activision Blizzard and the Overwatch League officially announced Friday that Toronto, Paris, Washington D.C., Vancouver, Hangzhou, and Chengdu will be receiving Overwatch League franchises for the league's upcoming second season in 2019. In Toronto, former Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Overholt, who recently stepped down from his position on Sept. 5 after eight years, will be the Toronto organization's president.
This brings the total number of expansion teams to eight, with Atlanta and Guangzhou confirmed recently. The announcement also confirms an August report from ESPN on the league adding a franchise in Toronto.
For Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer, the conversation and landscape shifted dramatically from Season 1.
"Last year, we were selling an idea," Nanzer said. "This year we had a successful season to point to. The conversation was different."
Nanzer said although there wasn't a specific list of cities the league looked at for new teams, the Toronto market was one that jumped out in the league's expansion talks.
One of those conversations took place with a group of Canadian investors that included Michael Kimel, who is a minority owner in the Pittsburgh Penguins and co-owner of the Chase Hospitality Group. The Chase Hospitality Group owns several high-profile restaurants in Toronto with an organizational goal of bettering the city's hospitality scene.
The esports organization Splyce is another investor. Splyce, which is, partially-funded by Delaware North, the parent company of the Boston Bruins and TD Garden, will help run the Toronto Overwatch League team.
For Overholt, the shift from traditional sports to esports was an easy one.
"We have been blown away," Overholt said of Overwatch League's inaugural season. "This is the future of sports and of entertainment."
The core principles in running an organization from traditional sports to esports, he said, are the same, especially when it comes to garnering sponsorships, engaging fans and building a lasting brand.
Overholt said his team in turn will rely heavily on Splyce CEO Marty Strenczewilk and the Splyce organization when heading up operations for the new Toronto Overwatch League team.
"You only get the chance to launch a franchise once," Overholt said.
There was no word on what the Toronto team will be called or what branding will look like, but Overholt said his group has already begun to solicit feedback and that a successful brand launch was its top priority, from the correct marketing to a strong, competitive team.
"Toronto fans should be incredibly excited," Nanzer said. "They know how to find players and develop players."