Are Disney and Tencent negotiating TV rights?

Isn’t it funny how using the parent companies’ names make these sort of deals more of an incredible spectacle to behold? (And if you come back at me with this “oooo butbutbutbutbut le rito is not le child company of le onedime chinur corporation lelelelele” nonsense, prepare to be told off.)

PVPLive has reported that Disney’s ESPN unit and Tencent’s Riot Games are actively negotiating television broadcast rights for the LCS. The deal is rumored to be valued somewhere in the region of $500m USD. Such a deal is equivalent to about one-third of Riot’s annual revenue, according to estimates from SuperData Research.

I’ve been on the record saying that ESPN’s entrance into esports was always a two-part equation: having the right people in-house and delivering killer video content.

You have to hand it to ESPN, they’ve certainly been recruiting some great writers to contribute to their reporting and their coverage hub has been putting out a lot of content spanning all of the major esports as well as grassroot scenes returning to popularity, like Smash.

Speaking of hiring great reporters–what happened to Slasher?

The second part of that formula hasn’t been as big of a stand-out success as I initially expected it to be. Even if it were simply someone recording a voice over and filing reports with the most generalized language possible so it could be thrown into currently existing shows or rundowns, having the additional touch of quality and professionalism that an ESPN video-journalistic approach could offer would make for some pretty compelling content.

However, Yahoo! has picked up the slack from ESPN with regards to video features and overall video packages. Many of the personalities they have aren’t leading minds in a given esport, but they are such believable presenters that you are willing to resist the urge to criticize them for being good in front of a camera.

If by making an earnest effort to incorporate esports content into ESPN’s broadcast platforms (not simply television) ends up being the most effective way to increase ESPN’s share of the younger demographics, then Disney might perhaps be making a right move here.

Facing increased pressure from shareholders over their ESPN unit’s recent ratings slump among other short-comings, an investment like this makes sense, especially considering how Disney is perceived to have strong-armed the stock market into stopping a rally. An important perspective to keep when rival Comcast announced it would be unveiling its own answer to sports streaming in the form of Playmaker, competing with WatchESPN bringing more important events to the world of streaming content such as the Premier League, the Triple Crown, the NASCAR championship and–its first client–the Olympics, for crying out loud.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of pressure on ESPN to expand its streaming content offerings and coverage to be able to adapt to or at least keep up with their corporate rivals’ potential offerings. CBS and Fox haven’t really stepped into the realm of streaming platform supremacy, as far as I know, but I’d be willing to bet that the first one that doesn’t require me to log into my cable TV provider’s authentication portal to a stream will win.

Look on the bright side, there’s no need for a chat window to be shown by default for these streams to be successful ventures.

And as if this post wasn’t confusing enough, this whole story may have been written up with less than all the facts. A freelance reporter says that he has received a pretty solid denial from a nameless PR drone at ESPN and Engadget are now running a story with a more firm denial expressly stating Riot are in “no active talks with ESPN at the moment.”

Maybe this is just a fairly credible rumor that PVPLive are running with?

Just give me Overwatch already.

Revisiting ESPN’s esports effort since its launch.

Yeah, ESPN’s done pretty well, all things considered. It’s too bad that ‘pretty well, all things considered’ is not good enough for some people.

A pseudonym wielding writer over at has composed one of the most fantasically braindead thinkpieces you’ll ever read about ESPN’s entry into esports, ultimately prompting this post. You should read it if you’re looking for reading material that could inspire a bout of slamming your head into your desk. It’s that frustrating. Truth be told, I was a bit more melodramatic in a reddit comment on r/esports.

To contrast that pointless rant with a more reasonable rant, here’s four cool and dumb things about the current state of ESPN’s esports reporting.

Cool thing: esports on the ESPN navbar. It’s a thing.


Dumb thing: video highlight packages without commentary are a waste of time.

This dumb thing is short and sweet. It’s not difficult to understand. Video skimmed from a stream and posted to OddShot has more value than ESPN’s licensing of rights to repurpose video from tournament organizations. Fight me IRL if you disagree.

Speaking of video content…

Dumb thing: where is the quality video content?

When Yahoo Esports is outperforming you with regards to video production, quality and quantity, it’s time to seriously reconsider your approach. I had to scroll back a week to find a video with an ESPN staffer up front talking about something in esports among the plethora of highlight videos. There are at least three on-camera personalities that have been commenting on various esports for Yahoo–not to mention Yahoo seems to be asking the better questions. Now, one of those people at Yahoo is Travis Gafford, a known softball-throwing company-line-tower, but we won’t hold it against them. We will hold it against ESPN that they haven’t bothered to find a replacement to Slasher for video appearances.

Cool thing: reporting on more than the major esports.

Just because I (or anyone) consider a certain set of games as a ‘major esport’ compared to others doesn’t mean that the other games don’t deserve attention or reporting. While I’m still a know-nothing pleb with regards to the FGC in general, I think it’d be pretty rash to say that Street Fighter V is a major esport–or any of the Smash games for that matter. SFV’s roster will be expanding this year via DLC add-on characters. While players might not be spending money to play as these new additions, everyone is going to have to acquire them one way or another. That’s all to say that ESPN’s inclusive attitude to reporting on games is a healthy attitude to keep, especially when they’re attracting major talent contributing as freelance writers and are allowing them to write lengthy pieces on things that matter to that particular esport’s meta.

ESPN began reporting on esports.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 08.45.45 (2)

A couple of years ago, I would have probably told you that the above image would never happen. I never thought that I would see esports anywhere near the navigation bar on ESPN’s website.

But it’s there. I imagine that I’ll probably be able to move that menu item to the actual bar itself sooner or later.

I understand that ESPN is supposedly the end-all, be-all of sports and various competition, and I also get that there are a lot of folks that hold the almighty ‘four letter’ in disdain… but I can’t help feeling optimistic about its launch. More optimistic than I’ve been about esports in general since I’ve come off the high from my trip to EVO this past year.

The launch, at face value

I figured that 2016 was going to be a huge step up for esports, as a lot of other folks have, but the launch of esports coverage on ESPN has got to be the first positive step for the industry this year.

As far as starting talent goes, Slasher has come back after his departure from TheScore. While he is lending his unique expertise to the venture and appears in the first video rundowns the section has published, I think that his former TheScore colleague at Fionn is the bigger get, here. The founding editor of the section is Darin Kwilinski, formerly a project manager at Azubu.

Between the three of them, they seem to have started on the right foot, even if Slasher posted a personal retrospective on the day the site went public. Of course, it’s not simple three people being given the ESPN name to carry into esports; there seems to be an effort to recruit plenty of freelance talent including popular content creators affiliated with other networks and news sites like Emily Rand of The Score and veteran Smash commentator Prog.

These two names published expert pieces on their respective scenes to help launch the website. Emily’s overview of the LPL offseason activity and Prog’s state of Smash piece in the context of this weekend’s Genesis 3 Smash event are great examples of the content that can thrive on ESPN — especially if they’re optioned into video stories, like how certain segments on SportsCenter end up taking up a five-ish minute block of featured airtime in the middle of the live rundown of the days sports news.

There’s a lot of potential in the type of content that the esports section can produce once they build out a stable of broadcastable talent. Slasher can perhaps run a show and he’s done that in the past during his stint at MLG, but having him read off of a teleprompter in front of a green screen is not the broadcastable feature clips you’re ever hoping to put on the air. Now, perhaps I’m being a bit rough of Slasher and that’s certainly possible here, since I am absolutely not deserving to be on broadcast television in any context whatsoever, but I think that his first performance left a bit to be desired. Then again, it’s his first time in front of a camera in God knows how long, so I’m willing to write it all off as relearning how to act in front of a camera.

ESPN’s perpetual content machine

WatchESPN is a tremendous value for ESPN as a whole. It exists as a value-add for any content that they want ot broadcast over it. From additional camera angles to behind the scenes content, the streams that are available for sports broadcasts that ESPN bid for are often more interesting than watching the main stream.

With the recent College Football Playoff final, as with many other broadcasts, watching the game online required logging into a cable TV provider’s web services to authorize watching any given broadcast online. However, not every broadcast option offered on WatchESPN required a cable TV subscription to watch.

One of those options was a feed from the Replay Booth with several producers combing through the game play-by-play, as it was transpiring, with the purpose of looking for video they could use for content later. Four men pouring over footage making production notes out loud was better than listening to two guys talk about what I just saw. This type of content can shine on ESPN, given time and the hope that whoever is in charge doesn’t screw this up.

Competitive competitor competing competitively

Will ESPN ever get that video drop from the stadium floor at this year’s LCS Worlds? Will they run their own commentary between matches or report on games in other leagues?

If the answer to those questions is no, then I don’t see how ESPN matures into anything other than the random vanity exercise it is as this point. Regardless, it’s still an incredible gesture of good faith from a media conglomerate that doesn’t need to prove anything to start mattering.

At the same time, it’s too early to assume and judge success or failure when ESPN’s esports coverage hasn’t realized its full potential. There’s so many ways that the content ESPN typically produces could be applied to esports, and vice versa.

Let’s see what they’re starting out with and come back to this discussion at the end of spring.