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.