How EPSN Coverage and the Turner League are changing eSports
Have you heard about Turner Broadcasting setting up a televised Counterstrike: Global Offensive eSports league? What about how Activision buying Major League Gaming in an effort to become the "ESPN of eSports?" Heck, even ESPN itself is dedicating an entire section of their website to eSports like League of Legends, Dota 2, and Hearthstone.
At this point, it's no secret that eSports has emerged as a mainstream market, one that a lot of people are looking to get into. The question that comes to mind then, is how exactly all of this sudden interest will affect the eSports community as a whole. Is it a good thing? Is it bad?
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Mo' Money, Mo' Problems
The most noticeable and perhaps the most far-reaching consequence of this growth is the money influx the sport will assuredly experience. It's not like we haven't already seen crazy amounts of money already; the most recent Dota 2 Championship prize pool sat at a hefty $18 million. Even the 'lesser' championships have seen a bump in recent years. EVO's prize pool for Ultra Street Fighter IV in 2014 was $29,000 but jumped to $72,000 the following year.
A study by research firm Newzoo shows that by 2019, the eSports economy will reach $1 billion in revenue. That's insane! One can safely assume that prize pools will jump, and fans will no doubt see more and more people attempt to make it as professional gamers. This can actually be a good thing, though. We'll start to see more professional teams start popping up, leading to more content for viewers to take in. Could you imagine an NFL style gaming league with 32 teams fighting for division crowns in order to make the playoffs? (Keep this in mind, well come back to it.)
The problems -- monetarily at least -- start to arise when we take a look at how a lot of this content is processed: for free. A ton of people watch their favorite events online, free of charge, through Twitch. What happens if they suddenly decide to put the content behind a pay wall? If ESPN starts showing LCS on TV, could Riot sign a TV deal and make it so certain games are shown only on ESPN? Professional sports leagues do this already. For example, the MLB signed a contract in 2014 where certain games were only shown on TBS. What's that? TBS? As in Turner Broadcasting? The guys that want to start their own CS:GO league? Yea, them.
Of course, this is all hypothetical. Would Riot actually sign a TV deal? I would argue no, as they are severely dedicated to their fanbase. That said, it is far from impossible, and as the money starts to reach into the billions, who knows what could happen.
Can we get organized?
The mainstream attention eSports is garnering can do a ton of good for the community too. Go back to my NFL-inspired gaming league for a second. What exactly does the NFL/NBA/NHL have that eSports doesn't? A governing body.
What I mean by that is a central organization that puts rules and regulations into place. As eSports grows and becomes more popular, these regulations are going to become necessary. The NFL is successful because they have one governing body that establishes set rules for the league to follow, and eSports would do best to follow suit.
As an example, take into consideration the League of Legends Championship Series. A problem that is has grown rampant throughout the sport is poaching players. The top LCS teams are quick to find top talent from other up and coming teams and recruit them into their ranks in order to kill any future threats to their LCS spot. There are rules in place to prevent this sort of thing, but it still happens and we end up seeing fledgling teams torn apart as their top members join up with the bigger squads.
A sport can't survive that way and it wouldn't be surprising if ESPN pushed eSports towards becoming more like the other major sports it covers. Creating a system similar to the NFL would be ideal. Establish a cap, make sure player contracts are guaranteed, hold a draft, etc. Even a farming system similar to the MLB's minor league would be a step in the right direction. You create a league for second-tier players, but also allow them the chance to move into the majors. It's a win-win scenario.
A Growing Community
Most importantly, this whole situation is a chance for our community to grow. What we should pride ourselves on as gamers, is our passions for what we love. The gaming community has fought for years for eSports to be considered a 'real' sport and we seem to be reaching a point where we can say we've done it.
As fans, we should want our sport to be open to anyone and everyone. How many people who don't watch football watch the Super Bowl? The World Series? Wouldn't it be awesome to see a few million people who don't normally follow eSports get invested in a game of CS:GO or a particularly close game of League? Even if they don't understand the minute details, they'll have fun watching anyway.
Our goal should be to create a community where people can watch eSports on TV without having to hear people say how stupid it is. As ESPN and Turner continue to push eSports into the limelight, it falls to us gamers to make sure we stay there.