What do you do when you think you have the next big thing in sports television? Try not to blow it.
Turner Sports has spent the last year investing time, money and resources into its eSports launch, an initiative that begins Tuesday.
“We don’t want you to flip on TBS and be like, what the [bleep] am I watching,” said Craig Barry, Turner’s chief content officer.
So, for the uninitiated, let’s start there.
eSports are team-wide, role-playing video games at the highest level. The TV screen will be split between the action of the game — “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” in this case — and the competitors controlling the action.
It has caught the eye of the sports world with the likes of Rick Fox, Mark Cuban and Alex Rodriguez investing into eSports teams in various leagues.
ESPN has dipped its toe into the eSports world in the past on ESPN3, but Turner’s plan for the ELEAGUE is more aggressive.
It will stream approximately 20 hours of content online Tuesday-Thursday during the preliminary rounds before three-hour finales on Friday nights (starting May 27) on TBS that will include pregame and postgame shows and analysis in between the best-of-three matchups. The 10-week season involves 24 teams in six four-team groups. A winner will emerge from each weekly mini-tournament and advance to a global championship with $1.2 million worth of prizes.
Each championship round will be held at a 250-seat set Turner built on its Atlanta campus.
“We are able to leverage our capability, our resources and our manpower and look to bring it to a higher quality,” Barry said.
Turner executives have spent the past year working with the gaming world, trying to figure out a way to stay true to that community, while drawing in a mainstream audience.
“We felt there was a real opportunity to create narratives around the players,” Barry said. “Who are the players you love and love to hate? Who is the LeBron James, the Steph Curry of eSports?
“What were the sacrifices they made to get to where they are? … In their communities, the best athletes in eSports are absolute rock stars. When they walk into an event they are signing autographs, people are there just to watch them.”
To get an idea of the sport’s potential: Riot Games told ESPN earlier this year that the 2013 LoL World Championships was being viewed online by 14 million people at one point. Twitch, the preeminent site to view fellow gamers, sold to Amazon for $1 billion in 2014.
Rick Fox did not need to be convinced. The three-time NBA champion with the Lakers has been a gamer since his teens, and is now a team owner in the ELEAGUE for the aptly named Echo Fox.
Fox, who is analyst for Turner-owned NBA TV, has sat in on some of the meetings and played a small in role in bringing the TV and gaming worlds together.
“I personally believe that this isn’t going anywhere and it’s just going to expand in its reach,” Fox said. “I am on the ground floor as a team owner, so I see it firsthand. I’ve watched the last eight months, it’s growing like a wildfire. It’s growing and Turner will add fuel to this fire. … They are as excited about this as they are about the NBA playoffs, and that’s telling to me.”