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Prior to joining OverActive Media (OAM) last year as its president and CEO, Chris Overholt led a long career throughout the professional and amateur sports worlds, with stints at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment with the Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs, as well as the Florida Panthers, Miami Dolphins, and Canadian Olympic Committee.
Now in the world of esports, he has recruited some of the talent that he worked alongside at previous organizations, including OAM vice president of content and communications Paulo Senra and recently-added board member Robin Brudner. That group grew larger this week with the announcement of OAM’s hiring of Alyson Walker, its new senior vice president, business.
Walker, who worked with Overholt at the Canadian Olympic Committee and considers him both a mentor and friend, told The Esports Observer that she had been hearing his excitement over OverActive Media and the opportunity of esports since last summer. Ultimately, she was persuaded to come aboard by his enthusiasm and optimism about the possibilities ahead.
“It’s an extremely exciting time to build a brand from the ground up, against a game that already has so much brand equity anyways.”
“The timing is perfect, certainly, for me—and for esports, it’s not at the ground level,” she said. “I’m joining when this is already a very legitimate business, but it feels to me like the perfect time to jump in when leagues are being created and the professionalization of all of esports globally is really on a very positive trajectory. It feels like a perfect time, the growth is very exciting to me, and the evolution of the industry… it’s one of the few times in your career that you really have a chance to build something.”
As her title suggests, Walker will lead the business side of OverActive Media, which counts Splyce, the Overwatch League’s Toronto Defiant, and the upcoming Toronto franchise slot in the geolocated Call of Duty League amongst its brands. She will oversee the sales, marketing, and communications efforts for the company, including the partnership sales and service groups. OAM recently signed partnerships with both Bell and Canon Canada. “Obviously, sponsors and marketing partners are going to be the lifeblood of this organization,” she said.
Walker herself most recently hails from Bell Media, where she was vice president of brand partnerships and client strategy since the start of 2016. Her path up until that point spans an array of distinctive roles that she said will provide the kind of wide-ranging experience needed in this new role with OverActive Media.
Credit: OverActive Media
She spent time at Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s largest bank, before working for the Canada Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium. After that, Walker was the executive director of marketing partnerships and licensing for the Canadian Olympic Committee from 2010-14, and then was vice president of content at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) from 2014-15 before leaving to join Bell. Overholt told The Esports Observer last year that he hopes to build the MLSE of esports with OverActive Media, and both have a history there. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to work for, I believe, a number of Canada’s top organizations,” said Walker.
Walker arrives at OverActive Media at a time in which it is embarking upon a significant new opportunity: developing and launching the Toronto franchise for Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty League, which is set to begin play next year. The organization already developed one Activision Blizzard league franchise with the Toronto Defiant, but Call of Duty is a game with an even longer history and wider mainstream appeal.
“It’s an extremely exciting time to build a brand from the ground up, against a game that already has so much brand equity anyways. The team is working hard on that right now, but there is an opportunity to reach both endemic fans and new fans, and I think that’s an area where we’ll really be focused… and it’s new fans that are potentially different than the demographic and makeup than we’re used to,” she said. “I think that opportunity exists with Call of Duty, as far as how we build that brand.”
“One of the things that really attracted me was the league model.”
Part of reaching a potentially broader, more mainstream audience is creating content that can appeal to and inform that viewership. Part of the goal is telling the stories behind the players and teams, but also explaining elements like game strategy to try and help viewers better understand the sport.
“There is such an opportunity to build this narrative [around] the professionalization of these teams. I’m really excited about that piece of it. I think there are a lot of great stories we have to tell, and really great opportunities in the ecosystem beyond just the gaming piece,” she said. “Borrowing from a traditional sports model, one of the things we did leading into the Vancouver Olympic games was build out the stories of our athletes, and I think that is what is so important: understanding who is playing, a little bit more about the people and personalities, but also the rivalries between teams.”
OverActive Media has put a significant focus on franchised leagues, and has secured spots in the Overwatch League, League of Legends European Championship (with Splyce), and Call of Duty League to date. Walker said that the opportunity with franchising was one of the main reasons why she was drawn to esports and OAM.
Credit: OverActive Media
“One of the things that really attracted me was the league model,” she said. “I think when you create scarcity, for one, you create asset value—but also when you create the ability to professionalize around a specific league and to bring some focus to an esports industry and ecosystem that is so large right now globally, it creates an opportunity to really monetize those teams and those leagues, and the organization as a whole. I think it’s extremely positive, and it provides us an opportunity particularly for partners and sponsors and for fans to really build upon the teams within these leagues.”
From Sports to Esports
Along with drawing from the nexus of talent around Overholt, OverActive Media has also made a seemingly concerted effort to recruit key people with experience in and around the traditional sports world.
In addition to the aforementioned employees, other examples include vice president of global partnerships Tyler Keenan, who previously was the Canadian brand director for Nike Golf, and vice president/head of marketing Mike Armstrong, who joined after running the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sport & Digital Innovation Marketing department. Walker believes that the experience will be valuable in developing an esports business.
“I don’t think that it’s mandatory that everybody [here has traditional sports experience], but I think having that experience and having grown brands.”
“I say this a lot in my career: business is business is business,” she said. “If you can take folks that have proven business discipline and business results, and transfer them to what may be a different ecosystem or different industry, they can bring those skills with them.
“It goes back to best practices and having done this before, understanding some of the discussions with league partners and other owners, and understanding discussions with marketing partners. That experience is invaluable when you’re going to build your own organization,” she continued. “I don’t think that it’s mandatory that everybody [here has traditional sports experience], but I think having that experience and having grown brands—and proven to marketing partners that we can drive value on their behalf—creates the credibility that’s required to build this into the organization that we want it to be.”