Last May, ESPN hosted live coverage of the inaugural Collegiate Esports Championships. It saw students from across the United States compete in a number of tournaments for Street Fighter V, Hearthstone, StarCraft II, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch.
Clearly, ESPN has enjoyed positive reviews and ratings after the tournament was screened. It’s now announced the creation of the EXP gaming series, of which the aforementioned Collegiate Esports Championship was the first tournament in the series.
To facilitate the new series, ESPN joins forces with software giants Electronic Arts. EA’s latest hot release, Apex Legends, will be the focus of the next two EXP series events slated to take place later this summer.
In a release, ESPN has revealed the tournaments will combine a mix of professional teams and players, alongside collegiate players in a pro-am format. ESPN has also confirmed the series will not simply be restricted to Apex Legends.
Events will run across multiple digital providers, including the ESPN app, as well as a highlights package shown on the TV channel.
Executive Vice President of Disney & ESPN Affiliate Sales Justin Connolly stated in the announcement:
“Leaning in to esports represents ESPN’s focus on serving sports fans and expanding audiences.
“We remain committed to serving gaming fans across all platforms and content types, and Apex Legends is the perfect title to showcase EXP’s vision of offering world-class live esports events anchored by storytelling and multi-platform distribution.”
The 2019 ESPYS will host the first EXP Pro-Am Apex Legends tournament. These will take place in Los Angeles on July 11. Then, the EXP Invitational, again featuring Apex Legends, will be held at the X Games Minneapolis event from Aug. 1-4 at the US Bank Stadium.
New level of fan involvement
The promise of pro-am action means ESPN has the opportunity to expand esports beyond the expected professionals.
Starting June 12, fans can enter the ESPYS Sweepstakes and earn themselves a place in the event. There is also an Open Qualification system for the EXP Invitational in Minneapolis.
Speaking about the news, ESPN Vice President of Digital Programming John Lasker stated:
“We are proud ESPN continues to be at the forefront of the growth and popularity of esports, collaborating with some of the top publishers in the industry, including EA [Electronic Arts] for our first-ever esports event series.
“EXP, short for experience, has been central to gaming history and giving fans a great experience is central to our strategy at ESPN.”
Esports breaking down barriers in broadcasting
The announcement from ESPN is the latest step toward esports on more mainstream TV channels.
In the United States, the Overwatch League sees selected matches broadcast on ESPN2 and ABC. And Disney XD shows three games per week. The league is also shown in other countries around the world on TV and satellite networks, including in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The broadcast in these countries is covered by Sports1, a broadcaster that has now launched its own dedicated esports channel, Esports1.
There are also TV shows dedicated to esports in South Korea. State broadcaster KBS is, in fact, producing a reality TV show about setting up a team to compete professionally in Overwatch tournaments.
Esports is also gaining a foothold in the UK. That’s where the BBC has a regular esports program on its digital channel. And Sky Sports has regularly shown highlights from a number of FIFA Road to the eWorld Cup tournaments.
But does esports need widespread broadcast coverage?
All this said, esports may not need national broadcasting networks. After all, it has grown into a billion-dollar industry without much support from broadcasters.
However, as with any sport, coverage on terrestrial and satellite TV channels is a very good way to expose your sport to a wider audience. The digital sphere remains one for enthusiasts.
At the moment, the industry is taking small steps rather than giant strides, but the slow infiltration of esports onto mainstream TV is happening. That can only be a good thing.
Image credit: Julian Finney / Staff / Getty