Defiant, Ultra owners to build esports arena in Toronto

Photo by Robert Paul/Provided by Blizzard Entertainment

OverActive Media will build a 7,000- to 10,000-seat esports arena at Exhibition Place in Toronto, according to a memo sent to Canadian government officials by company CEO Chris Overholt and obtained by ESPN.

The new arena will be adjacent to BMO Field and Hotel X Toronto and will serve as home to the Toronto Defiant and Toronto Ultra, the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League franchises owned by OverActive Media. OverActive Media also owns MAD Lions, the Spanish esports franchise.

OverActive Media has hired former Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment vice president Bob Hunter to coordinate with government officials on the venue. Hunter has been involved in the development and expansion of several other Canadian sports venues, including B.C. Place Stadium, Rogers Centre, Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field. The new esports arena deal was negotiated between the Kimel family -- the majority owners of OverActive and a well-known Canadian real estate and hospitality industry family -- and Library Hotel Collection owner Henry Kallan, who owns Hotel X Toronto.

OverActive Media was formed when the Ledger Group, a Canadian tech investment group, pivoted to a majority esports focus following investments in American esports franchise Splyce and Enthusiast Gaming, the operators of the biggest gaming expo in Canada.

In partnership with Splyce and with new investment from the Kimel family, the organization agreed to buy into the Overwatch League as one of eight expansion franchises in 2018. OverActive Media then founded the Defiant.

The group later acquired Splyce in full and would rebrand their League of Legends European Championship team to MAD Lions. OverActive Media bought into another Activision Blizzard concern, establishing the Toronto Ultra in the Call of Duty League in 2019.

The company made layoffs twice in 2019, first with six marketing and sales people at the beginning of the year and second with 13 other employees in the fall, including Splyce co-founder Vincent Garguilo. With the latter, the company shut down Splyce's Rochester, New York headquarter. Shortly thereafter, Splyce co-founder Marty Strenczewilk announced he would depart his role as an executive in OverActive Media.

The new venue will be one of several being built as part of investments in the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, both which were set to play games in home markets for the majority of the year prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Other developments include Fusion Arena, a new part of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex built by Philadelphia Flyers and Fusion owner Comcast Spectacor, as well as a new esports facility under construction inside of SoFi Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, California. The Kroenke family, who own the Rams, also own the Los Angeles Gladiators and Los Angeles Guerrillas.