With the proliferation of eSports across many platforms in recent years, it increasingly looks like the future of sports includes watching people play video games. And while ESPN has aired eSports on TV and devoted a section of its web site to gaming (as has Yahoo), Turner sports has made the most ambitious commitment to the growing industry, with ELeague.
ELeague is a competition/reality TV show that pits 24 eSports teams against each other in pursuit of a $1.2 million prize. Its first season, which closes this weekend, has aired live on Twitch and once a week on TBS, and according to Digiday, Turner Sports has been happy with viewership.
This weekend, ELeague closes out its inaugural season, and by all measures, Turner Sports is already pleased with how the league has performed, according to Craig Barry, evp and chief content officer for Turner Sports. “In our business, engagement is going to be one of the most important metrics going forward,” he said. “And specifically around engagement, we’ve had a very successful first season.”
Per Digiday, ELeague viewers have combined to watch 13.3 million hours of content across Twitch and TBS, including 18.7 million views on Twitch. The TBS ratings have been solid as well, with an average of 271,000 viewers across live and time-shifted viewing, again according to Digiday. That’s about as good as eSports ratings gets. For comparison, the Evo World Championships on ESPN2 drew 201,000 viewers earlier this month, and the Madden NFL Championship in June attracted 197,000 eyeballs, also on ESPN2.
Obviously those numbers won’t rival football, basketball or baseball or even soccer, tennis and NASCAR, but considering that eSports was an entirely foreign concept to most of America just a few years ago, it’s certainly fair for Turner to be excited about what its got on its hands.
A new season of ELeague begins in the fall, and if the show continues to have success, you figure ESPN and other networks will look to capitalize with their own self-produced content. Remember how ESPN grew extreme sports into a national phenomenon by producing and airing the X Games every year? Or how they turned the fairly ridiculous concept of poker-on-TV into a popular and profitable venture? Maybe eSports is next.