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“The impact of esports will continue to grow”

How Activision Blizzard has been steadily building its reputation in consumer products.

For the past two years at Licensing Expo, the Activision Blizzard Consumer Products booth has garnered significant attention from visitors. A company which is well used to exhibiting at E3 – the annual trade show held in LA for the video games industry – it has successfully transferred its skillset into the licensing space and has earned its place on the ‘must visit’ list.

It’s worked hard to get to this point and, this year alone, it has made enormous progress building relationships with licensees across a variety of product categories including toys, collectables, apparel and accessories, as president Steve Young tells Source.

“We kicked off 2019 with the launch of LEGO, Hasbro and NERF programmes on behalf of Blizzard’s Overwatch,” he says, “and also launched our second Blizzard pan-IP collection with Uniqlo in spring. On the Activision side of the business, we have an established business for both Call of Duty collectables and peripherals licensees McFarlane, Astro, KontrolFreek and Scuf.

“We’ve also continued to elevate the franchise through lifestyle collaborations in Europe – Primark and DRKN to name two. Both Activision and Blizzard continue to see success with Funko across multiple franchises, including Overwatch League, a first in esports collectables.”

Activision Blizzard Consumer Products' booth at Licensing Expo was a major draw.
Activision Blizzard Consumer Products' booth at Licensing Expo was a major draw.

It is perhaps that ‘e’ word – esports – which has really helped ABCP stand out among its peers. This year has seen it begin working with Fanatics, launching an international ecommerce and mobile shopping experience for The Overwatch League. It offers fans the opportunity to engage with their favourite teams and players through what Steve describes as ‘trend right’ merchandise. The 2019 Overwatch League Season officially launched in February, culminating with the Grand Finals in September.

“Esports continues to be a huge opportunity for consumer products and we are succeeding in our goal of reaching a whole new generation of athletes and fans across The Overwatch League and the future of Call of Duty esports,” enthuses Steve. “Leagues such as The Overwatch League, and the next iteration of the Call of Duty esports, are becoming prominent fixtures within the licensing business through elevating the standard for esports gear and collectables through programmes that are built around both performance and fashion, similar to what’s been done in the sporting world.

“The impact of these programmes will continue to grow as another generation of consumers come of age.”

Crash Bandicoot is among the brands in the Funko Pop! Vinyl portfolio.
Crash Bandicoot is among the brands in the Funko Pop! Vinyl portfolio.

As well as the deal with Fanatics, Upper Deck has secured a multi-year exclusive trading card and collectables deal with The Overwatch League, which will also be the first ever trading card programme for an esports league. Funko will also be launching a Pop! Vinyl sku later this year – the company’s first partnership for an esports programme.

Steve believes that the potential for esports in general in the licensing space is “massive”, especially when you look at the size and engagement of the audience. He is also keen to point out that ABCP is working with global teams to customise programmes to individual markets as he understands that one size doesn’t fit all. Indeed, this was key to its return to Brand Licensing Europe in October, with expansion in Europe in particular – as well as across Asian and Latin American markets – being a major goal.

Leaving the world of esports for a moment, and there is plenty elsewhere in the ABCP portfolio to celebrate this year, too.

2019 marks the 40th anniversary of Activision Publishing. Steve explains that it’s about looking into Activision’s past, present and future, and celebrating gamers across generations. “By leaning into the strong consumer demand for retro properties, we were able to embrace the possibilities with consumer products for Crash Bandicoot and Spyro,” he says.

In addition, World of Warcraft – the massively multi-player online role-playing game released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004 – is marking its 15th anniversary. As part of the celebrations, Scholastic is releasing the third instalment of the World of Warcraft Traveler book series – aimed at young readers – later this year.

Expansion will also continue for the Call of Duty franchise, with the latest game – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – on the horizon. “Our goal is to continue to expand the Call of Duty brand into new categories in the lifestyle space through premier collaborations,” offers Steve. Coming up in the remainder of 2019 will be a high-end COD capsule collection from international streetwear brand DRKN, while Fashion UK – ABCP’s newly appointed pan-European apparel and fashion accessories partner – is due to launch a range of products across a selection of retailers.

The immediate future certainly looks busy for ABCP, but what’s the long-term goal?

“Looking ahead we think the real opportunity is to unlock supporting fan passion year-round, 365, not just during times of game releases,” Steve concludes. “Immersing our fans day in and day out, year over year, not just through targeted days or months. Elevating the quality of the partners and products, and following trends in order to create culturally relevant programmes is also something you can continue to expect from Activision Blizzard Consumer Products.”

LEGO is one of the key toy partners for Overwatch.
LEGO is one of the key toy partners for Overwatch.

“We want to create products that excite us”

While the way that video games licensing is viewed has changed considerably over recent years, as with any sector, there are still challenges which exist.

Steve explains: “The need to build and nurture our franchises for the community in the long-term, as well as driving incremental opportunities through sub-franchises.

“Additionally, where we’ve continuously found success is by being community members ourselves. As fans of the Activision and Blizzard franchises, we want to create products that excite us just as much as they excite general consumers.”

Steve continues: “To do so, we tailor each of our customer experiences across franchises to ensure they are authentic to the gameplay experience seen in properties, such as Diablo, World of Warcraft and Crash Bandicoot, among a number of others.”

This feature originally appeared in the autumn 2019 edition of Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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