Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

eSports makes a play for TV

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast May 26, 2016

Gaming could sit next to football on Sky or BT Sport, says Kate Bulkley

Leicester City’s run to the Premier League title created some thrilling TV moments. But perhaps more important for the future of sport on TV was the recent launch of series two of Endemol Shine’s Legends Of Gaming in the US. Pizza Hut is the main sponsor and an English gamer known as Syndicate is the host.

This is where the world’s best players face off for large cash prizes on platforms like YouTube and Amazon-owned games-streaming service Twitch, attracting millions of viewers and, increasingly, big-brand sponsors.

eSports goes a step beyond multi-player video gaming; this audience wants to watch top competitors play games like Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm and League of Legends. Dutch research company Newzoo forecasts eSports to be worth around $500m (£350m) this year, growing to $1.1bn (£750m) by 2019, making it the fastest-growing portion of the $100bn (£70bn) video games industry.

This year looks like a tipping point for eSports. Turner Broadcasting’s ELeague, featuring 24 of the best teams, began broadcasting live on the TBS TV channel, alongside Twitch, this month. Modern Times Group has been buying into some of the biggest eSports leagues, including ESL, the oldest eSports firm.

Last year, BBC iPlayer showcased the quarter-finals of the League of Legends world championships and in March, Sky Sports 1 broadcast the Fifa Interactive World Cup final. Activision Blizzard (maker of Call of Duty) paid $46m (£30m) for the biggest eSport gaming league, Major League Gaming, and installed former ESPN chief executive Steve Bornstein to oversee it.

Separately, ESPN.com plans to cover eSports and has already integrated games like Call of Duty into its summer and winter X Games competitions.

Meanwhile, online gaming and media firm Machinima is launching Inside eSports, a daily news and analysis show, on Verizon’s mobile video service Go90 this summer. At Mip TV, Machinima was selling Chasing The Cup, an eSports docu-series that has aired on US channel The CW.

Seven markets now have a version of Legends Of Gaming: the UK, US, Poland, Brazil, Germany, France and Chile. Earlier this year, Endemol Shine bought OP Talent, which counts 11 of YouTube’s top UK online influencers among its clients. More than 60 million fans tuned in to the first two series of the UK version of Legends Of Gaming (pictured) and the upcoming season four is sponsored by Sony’s PlayStation 4.

The 112 major eSports events in 2015 generated $20.6m (£15m) in ticket sales and prize money totalled $61m (£46m). Online advertising was up 99.6% and the average annual revenue per fan was $2.83 (£2.17), which is expected to grow to $3.53 (£2.41) this year, according to Newzoo.

eSports fans are advertising gold: wealthy, young, male (though the female audience is growing), most with young families. No wonder Pizza Hut is interested. So how long before Sky Sports or BT Sport broadcast Legends Of Gaming alongside football and darts? Or will gaming star MessYourself win BBC Sports Personality of the Year? You heard it here first. ­

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