It’s been a long time coming, but 2016 might be the year eSports fully enters the mainstream, especially if ESPN has anything to say about. Yesterday, ESPN launched a brand new division dedicated to eSports, telling the LA Times they will be covering eSports going forward with the same rigor that they do the National Football League. ESPN has hired more writers to cover it, and it will be injected into ESPN’s mainstream programming such as SportsCenter.
ESPN’s love affair with eSports has been peculating for quite some time now, with them having aired certain eSports events live on their television channels before as well as front paging the emerging sport on ESPN the Magazine. Now though, perhaps coinciding with the new year (new year new ESPN), ESPN is being louder than ever before of its support of eSports.
Don’t get it twisted, though. Someone at ESPN probably didn’t get a new console for Christmas and decide that they wanted to start covering video games because they had a blast playing Star Wars Battlefront this past weekend. Likewise, we probably won’t be seeing Linda Cohn on line for Final Fantasy XV later this year. The likely real reason ESPN (and its parent company Disney) are going gaga over eSports is probably a very different than why you or I would. It’s because eSports is making money, and even more importantly, it has lots of room to grow and make even more money.
By ESPN’s own account, eSports is growing, and growing fast. Last year, Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight.com wrote for ESPN the Magazine about how massive eSports has already become, and how it’s steadily getting bigger year after year. As early as 2013, the League of Legends Championship online audience outdrew major events such as The Masters (Golf), the NBA Finals, and the World Series. Bigger audiences mean major networks like ESPN are more likely to get involved to get a piece of the cash that’s flowing into the sport via the inevitable influx of bigger advertisement and sponsorship deals.
So sure, ESPN is probably (read: definitely) in it for the money, but that’s why any business gets involved with anything. In this case, though, greed is going to be good for everyone. Well, maybe not hipsters I guess that prefer eSports stays “underground.” For those people, sorry, but it’s probably too late for that.
ESPN doubling down on eSports means that the general public is going to be able to consume more of it than ever before. It’s going to be on TV, more celebrities will start getting involved, you’re going to see more articles written about it on ESPN, this site, and all over because journalists and beat writers are in the business of writing about what’s relevant to you, the person reading this article right now. As eSports get more popular, standing on ESPN.com alongside the NFL and MLB, it becomes more relevant to even more people.
All that extra coverage and attention will grow the sport to levels that it couldn’t just do on its own. With ESPN and eventually other major networks propping it up even higher, we’re likely going to see bigger prize pools, more tournaments, more variety in the games that are on display and, benefiting true aficionados, more opportunities for careers in the eSports industry. Hell, big sport fans know that the NCAA loves profits; we might even see eSports formally take off in college too, complete with scholarships.
Unless you’re a sport/sport gaming fan that’s familiar with how ESPN operates, the thought of ESPN getting involved might seem cheesy or just trend hopping. However, if you really want to see eSports take off, this is a development in your favor. ESPN’s heavy interest is telling of how far it has come. Video gaming is slowly but surely becoming more accepted, and now that “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” is all in, the sky’s the limit for just how far eSports, and video gaming in general, can penetrate into mainstream culture.