Can eSports save the Pac-12 Network? The Pac-12 sure hopes that’s the case.
Following an internal review of interest from students around the conference, the Pac-12 announced that the Pac-12 Network will begin airing eSports competitions with Pac-12 universities starting later this year.
The combination of the Pac-12 and eSports programming on the Pac-12 Network is a perfect match. In one online ranking of the top 10 best schools for gamers, three reside in the Pac-12; Utah, USC and Washington. Of course, Silicon Valley is also found within the Pac-12 footprint, and companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, and many more have their U.S. headquarters on the west coast.
“eSports is a natural fit for many of our universities located in the technology and media hubs of the country,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. “Pac-12 Networks’ commitment to innovation as well as its natural tie to our universities and established media platform make it the perfect organization to develop the framework for eSports intercollegiate competition.”
The Pac-12 Network is not the first conference-branded network to tap the waters of the growing eSports genre. The Big Ten Network has also gotten in the game. A month ago, the Big Ten Network aired a League of Legends event that featured the top two Big Ten schools (Ohio State and Michigan State) going head-to-head in the PC game. ESPN has also been finding ways to get involved in eSports as well, and investing in the future of the growing industry.
“The Big Ten has some of the premier eSports teams in the country,” said Michael Calderon, Vice President of Programming and Digital Media at Big Ten said last month. “The fast-paced, high-level competition of League of Legends is a great fit for BTN’s audience and we’re excited to be the first conference-owned network to bring the intensity of collegiate eSports to a television audience.”
But this was just a one-time deal for the Big Ten Network, perhaps opening the door for future eSports programming. The audience is there, especially in the offseason months for the sports the conference cashes in on the most, football and basketball. It may not drive up the ratings like traditional sports will, but it does add original content to help fill the hours of programming holes to fill throughout the year.
For a network that has struggled to build its audience, adding a new venture into eSports may be able to help make the PAc-12 Network at least a slight bit more interesting to potential viewers, but in order for it to truly pay off the Pac-12 Network will need eSports to continue to grow as a marketable product that people will want to tune in to watch when there are alternatives like Twitch already available.