The family that’s owned the Vancouver Canucks for more than a decade is expanding its horizons beyond the ice and into the world of competitive video gaming.

eSports has already ballooned into a billion-dollar industry, rivalling long-time leagues like the NFL and NBA. The online gaming community has proven eager for real-world excitement with massive, sold-out crowds cramming into brick-and-mortar stadiums, where those who love playing the game can see the best in the world compete for millions in prizes.

“I think it is the next big sports craze in the world that is exploding right before our eyes,” Aquilini Entertainment President Adrian Montgomery told CTV News.

The Aquilini family has bought into the Overwatch franchise, acquiring the rights for the Pacific Northwest and expecting to draw spectators from Seattle and Portland to watch home games in Vancouver.

 ‘Overwatch’ is a team-based first-person shooter game. Similar to traditional sports, each franchise will recruit players, engage fans and build a brand – including merchandise and plenty of marketing.

Players’ annual salaries start at $50,000. They’re not expected to move away immediately, but team members will eventually live and train in the city they’ll be representing.

“Over time, we expect eSports to take over the shape and form of any other sport. So we expect our Overwatch team to be fully embedded in the community and that's what we're going to be working for,” Montgomery said.

Vancouver and Toronto are the first Canadian cities to join the Overwatch League, which has 11 American teams, two European teams and five Asian teams.  


On Sunday, expansion franchises will have a month to build their rosters.

"This is a global sport and we're going to be trying to recruit players from all over the world, not just our local market and not just Canada,” Montgomery said.

The world championships are underway at the Activision Blizzard Studios in Burbank, Calif. Vancouver’s team will play there next year, with home games in the expansion teams’ respective cities expected in another couple of years, Montgomery said.

“Starting in 2020, the goal is to start our season at home and we think there’s no better place than Rogers Arena for that team to play out of. We expect it to be exciting and successful,” he said.

Rogers Arena was sold out for all six days of the International Dota 2 Championships in August with spectators and competitors flocking to the venue to see $26 million in prize money doled out.

Montgomery said those high stakes and excitement are what drove younger members of the family to encourage their elders "to take a hard look at eSports."

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Penny Daflos