As the competitive world of eSports continues to grow, the companies hosting the events and the sponsors hoping to make some money off of them are bound to try a few new media venues for the tournaments. Twitch is a logical great place to start, but as the viewership grows, there is definitely the potential for a large enough audience to justify televising the events. Although Heroes of the Storm isn’t the MOBA with the biggest tournaments or prize payouts (League of Legends and DOTA2 are still ahead on that front), Heroes did have a television debut on ESPN2 last weekend.
The Heroes of the Dorm event aired on ESPN2 over the weekend and the finals featured students from Arizona State University against students from University of California at Berkeley in a MOBA battle for tuition prize money. Despite a generally positive reaction to the event from the internal community, some personalities at ESPN were not thrilled to see eSports on their home network.
ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd, who has made a career of having the kind of personality you might dread hearing from morning radio hosts, had an incredibly negative reaction to the event. Although ESPN logically brought in commentators from inside the eSports world to host and moderate the event, Cowherd still felt the need to explain that being asked to cover such an event would make him leave the network…
“Here’s what’s going to get me off the air: If I am ever forced to cover guys playing video games, I will retire and move to a rural fishing village and sell bait. You want me out? Demand video game tournaments on ESPN, because that’s what appeared on ESPN2 yesterday.”
He continued on to rant against gamers and threw out some incredibly unoriginal material like, “Somebody lock the basement door at mom’s house, and don’t let ’em out.”
Those who were watching sports networks during the World Series of Poker boom around the year 2004 might remember lots of sports personalities having similar reactions as card games started to get more and more screen time on the many ESPN channels. And as expected, the WSOP coverage wasn’t impacted by that negative press and continued to thrive and grow stronger in the following years. The networks hired commentators from within the poker world to host the events and although a particular play might be featured on SportsCenter on occasion, the usual sports show hosts didn’t overlap with coverage of poker.
Although Twitter was full of video game haters angry about the coverage during the tournament, not everyone at ESPN was unhappy with the event. ESPN reporter Michelle Beadle started watching as a total outsider and found herself sucked in and enjoying the coverage by the end.
It’s yet to be proven if an ESPN network is the right home for eSports coverage, but gamers can rest assured that one radio personality, who has made a career out of ranting, will not impact the sport’s televised future. Hundreds of thousands of fans log in to Twitch every week to watch Magic: The Gathering pro tours, DOTA2 tournaments, and Counter-Strike matches; so there is clearly a market to capitalize on. Although television ad-time may be more lucrative than Twitch ad-time, it’s possible that the best home for these kinds of events has yet to be developed or identified.
An entire television network dedicated to eSports is a fun idea, but the freedom to watch any game on Twitch or YouTube seems far more appealing to a modern audience than the set-in-stone schedule of a television network.
What do you think of watching video games on ESPN? Do you think there’s a better home for eSports? Let us know in the comments.