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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Mazurek: ESPN finally embraces esports

Oct. 13 of last year, I wrote a column that argued for a greater respect for esports in our culture.

Thus, I was happy when ESPN recently included esports as part of its sports coverage.

Now, when you go to ESPN there is an “esports” tab just as there is one for the NFL, the NBA or any other “traditional” sport.

Setting aside the discussion of whether or not esports should be considered sports in the traditional sense, ESPN made an incredibly smart move by choosing to cover esports.

For a traditional sports outlet like ESPN, esports fans are the textbook definition of an untapped market. Esports matches are televised live on sites such as Twitch, and in South Korea, League of Legends matches are shown on network television. Last year’s League of Legends world championship between Samsung White and Royal Gaming drew 27 million viewers worldwide. For comparison, only 23.5 million tuned in for Game 7 of the 2014 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals and 18 million watched the San Antonio Spurs topple the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Where did I find that statistic? ESPN.

The 2013 world championships sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and the number of esports players is steadily growing. According to the creator of League of Legends, Riot Games, the game has increased from 32 million players monthly in 2012 to 67 million in 2014.

Clearly esports has a huge following, not just in the U.S. but all around the world. And as the first traditional sports news site to cover esports, ESPN will undoubtedly gain readers. Many esports enthusiasts will turn to ESPN to get their esports coverage in the same place as they get coverage of their traditional sports. And many more traditional sports fans will check out ESPN’s coverage of esports just to see what the fuss is about.  

Esports also fits in nicely with ESPN’s fan-centered, interactive content. League of Legends recently started a “fantasy” League Challenger Series (LCS) system that works much like the fantasy football most traditional sports fans are familiar with.

Esports is also highly statistically driven, something ESPN loves, and comes rife with offseason drama with players changing teams frequently. Additionally, esports is divided by geographic regions, which creates debates as to which region(s) are superior, much like the conference system in college football. All of this creates content for ESPN in the form of fantasy cheat sheets, power rankings and offseason updates.  

However, the best part of ESPN’s decision to cover esports is the look of dumbfounded disgust that graced sports broadcaster Colin Cowherd’s face when he heard the news. For those new to the subject, Cowherd said that if he were ever forced to cover esports, he would quit. Cowherd is no longer with ESPN so he cannot quit the network, but it would have been enjoyable to see closed-minded people like him when arguably the most influential sports network in the U.S. decided it would move into the 21st century and cover a sport that deserves coverage.

I commend ESPN for its decision to cover esports. It is a win-win scenario and hopefully ESPN’s example will pave the way for esports’ acceptance in American sports culture.