The world of eSports, or competitive video gaming, is becoming much more of a focus for conventional sports media (not surprising, considering that 205 million people reportedly watched or played eSports in 2014 and that the sector could be worth $1 billion by 2017), and the latest to really jump into regular eSports coverage is ESPN. The Worldwide Leader is looking to extend its sports presence into this new arena, an arena that’s seeing major investment from commerce companies, media companies, and gaming companies, and they’ve now launched a new eSports vertical at espn.com/esports with editor Darin Kwilinski and writers Rod Breslau and Tyler Erzberger. From their release:
“Today’s launch – anchored by the influential voices of Darin Kwilinski, Rod Breslau and Tyler Erzberger – is our latest push to reach and connect with this growing and passionate audience,” said Chad Millman, editor-in-chief, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. “Fans will find the same level of quality content and journalism that users of ESPN.com have come to expect, including in-depth looks at the competitive gaming world and on-site reporting from the major tournaments.”
In its first week, content will include video, news on the current and future state of esports, offseason grades that look back on the past season of multiple league championships from around the world and profiles on gamers who have influenced the meteoric rise of esports. Reporting will also be delivered from the opening weekend of the North America League of Legends Championship Series on January 16. Fans will be able to tweet and share content from the site by following @ESPN_esports.
It’s been clear for a while that ESPN was headed in this direction, as they announced a job posting for an eSports editor back in September, and it makes sense. While televising eSports events hasn’t really paid off for ESPN so far, with low ratings for the Heroes of the Dorm event last April, that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable content. In fact, competitor Turner is betting that they’ll be able to succeed where ESPN has failed by launching their own eSports league and regularly televising it. eSports material might be even better on the web than on conventional TV, as many of the important events are streamed and consumed that way outside of television, either live or on replay. Thus, good eSports journalism online might make even more sense financially than just televised eSports broadcasts.
What’s also interesting is where these writers come from. Kwilinski was a managing editor for Azubu and also worked at onGamers and eSportspedia (back when it was Leaguepedia), but both Breslau and Erzberger most recently worked from Canada’s The Score. That’s another sports media company that’s gotten heavily into eSports coverage, to the extent of launching a standalone website and app for it. They have plenty of writers, so it’s unlikely these losses are going to knock them out of the game, but it’s notable that ESPN is targeting other media companies that have gotten into the eSports realm.
How much of an impact will ESPN’s eSports coverage have? Well, this isn’t necessarily something that will take off with traditional sports fans (which is why segmenting it in its own easy-to-find vertical makes a lot of sense; it’s there for those who want it, but it won’t offend those who don’t care about eSports), but it’s something that has a big audience in its own right. That audience isn’t necessarily using ESPN.com extensively at the moment, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is getting the eSports community to start taking ESPN seriously as a place to go for eSports news, and that’s why hiring proven editors and writers like these is important; if they do good work and break news, audiences should follow. The opportunity is that this is another sector for ESPN to extend its reach, and perhaps one that wasn’t already consuming its content extensively. If they can get substantial eSports readers to start flocking to ESPN, that could be very good for them, regardless of what Colin Cowherd thinks…