The Electronic Sports League (ESL) plans to launch a new eSports TV channel in May using MTG’s Viasat platform in the Nordic and Baltic countries. MTG and ESL have already begun negotiations to distribute the channel worldwide.
The 24/7 eSportsTV channel will show content from ESL’s competitions and broadcasts from the ESL One, Intel Extreme Masters and Pro League circuits.
eSportsTV has a potential audience of 2 billion by 2017
ESL claims to have an existing audience of over 100 million digital viewers for over 2,000 live hours of gaming and eSports content. It has existing relationships for broadcasting content with Twitch, Azubu, Hitbox and Yahoo.
“We have always dreamt of making eSports the world’s most popular sport, and it’s the opportunities like this one that bring us one step closer to making that dream come true,” said ESL’s Managing Director Ralf Reichert.
“Bringing new and existing content to more screens worldwide is key to further accelerating the growth and popularity of eSports, and we’re on a mission to reach every gamer in the world.”
Every gamer in the world for ESL means using eSportsTV to access the two billion gamers and 250 million eSports fans that it estimates the industry will have by the end of 2017.
ESL will not have the market to itself. On May 27, TBS will begin its televised broadcast of its new E-League, a pro league formed by Turner Sports and partner global talent management and events firm WME/IMG.
Televised eSports marks a key stage in industry development
The introduction of televised broadcasts is a traditional part of the evolution of sports as their popularity grows. ESL’s commitment therefore represents a powerful piece of evidence about where eSports are in terms of the industry’s maturity.
Cable and satellite TV penetration, at least in developed nations, has reached saturation point. And even in less developed countries in Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, anyone who can afford to buy a PS4, or Xbox is likely to have cable TV access.
However, using the historical view of the development of other sports to determine that televised broadcasts are a key indicator of the industry’s development may be to ignore the massive environmental changes in broadcasting which have taken place over the last few years.
Improved technology has made it cheaper than ever to set up the infrastructure of a TV channel, so televising sports involves less financial risk than it did 10 years ago.
Secondly, gamers have been provided with alternatives to TV like Twitch and YouTube. The viewing figures for top gamers and popular eSports competitions on digital media are quite simply staggering. Even accounting for an element of over-reporting, the most popular eSports players and presenters generate audiences equivalent to those of popular mainstream TV shows.
At the same time as the appetite for eSports broadcast content is growing insatiably, the cost of providing the content has collapsed.
That isn’t to say that the creation of the new TV channel is not important. It is a major step forward for the industry, although it’s a step that is probably much easier to take now than it has been for any previously popular sport.
Revenues could go through the roof
The huge audiences for online eSports content are a powerful current motivator for introducing televised eSports, but the growing mainstream interest in eSports, which promises much higher revenues in the future, may well be the stronger commercial argument.
As the first mover in the market, ESL is taking an asymmetric risk. If the channel doesn’t produce high revenues, little money will have been lost. If it does, the size of the revenues could provide a stratospheric return.