Thursday May 12,2016 : U.S. SPORTS NETWORK HAS BIG PLANS FOR E-SPORTS
One executive sees parallels in the rise of eSports with that of poker.
The giant US sports network ESPN plans to increase its involvement in eSports, with one executive opining that the rise of the new vertical has similarities with that of online poker in its boom years.
John Lasker, vice president of programming and acquisitions at ESPN told the publication Tech Insider this week that eSports has been identified as a future business opportunity, and the vertical is already becoming more and more a part of the ESPN landscape.
Lasker pointed to the similarities with the way in which television boosted the rise of poker, noting that at one point few could appreciate the potential of watching top players competing against one another in televised poker matches, and that the eSport competitions so popular with the millennial demographic are creating the same enthusiasm for televised coverage.
ESPN interest will translate to more exposure for eSports, Lasker said, adding that "…fans should expect to see more highlights, player profiles, and news across ESPN web and television."
Lasker says that lessons learned in the rise of poker will be applied to eSports, especially the need to humanise the sport by telling stories about players and their histories and backstories rather than the more restrictive approach of focusing solely on the competitions.
He pointed out that last year around 250 million people watched or played eSports, ESPN intends in 2016 to increase its involvement, and has already introduced a new dedicated section on the ESPN website featuring information and content on the genre, including tournament coverage – one recent college competition attracted over 110,000 viewers to the ESPN television channel screening it.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done to get the general audience to recognize these aren't kids sitting in the basement eating potato chips and playing games all day long," Lasker says. "They're talented, and their talents are unique, not dissimilar to your professional basketball or football player."