E-sports is making the big leap to mainstream cable.
Publisher Blizzard has announced that the Grand Finals of its collegiate tournament for online multiplayer arena battler Heroes of the Storm will air live on ESPN2. At 6:30 p.m. Pacific (9:30 p.m. Eastern) on Sunday, the final two teams in the “Heroes of the Dorm” tournament will face off against one another to win the top prize. This is an example of how e-sports games, like Heroes of the Storm, are establishing themselves as huge spectator events along the lines of traditional sports. Analysts predict that pro-gaming, with its advertising, ticket sales, and more, will make around $465 million by 2017.
The Heroes of the Dorm event’s final four, which Blizzard is calling the “Heroic Four” to avoid getting sued by the NCAA, will kick off their first match at around 2:30 p.m. Pacific on Sunday, with Arizona State taking on Boston College. At 4:30 p.m. Pacific, Illinois Urbana-Champaign faces Cal. Both of those matches will stream live on ESPN3.com, which is the sports network’s online-only “channel.” But after that second match, ESPN2 will pick up the action live as if it were a college basketball game.
This will give the millions of people who have ESPN2 the chance to tune in and watch a pro-gaming event at its best.
Heroes of the Storm’s college tournament marks one of the first times that an e-sports tournament has made it onto a platform as huge as ESPN2. Disney’s sports division has previously worked with developer Valve on airing its tournament The International for Dota 2 last year on ESPN3.com, but that only ever made it to ESPN2 in the form of a preview show for the finals.
This shows that ESPN is definitely interested in e-sports, which is a market that is growing as a rapid pace. Millions of young people — often in the key advertising demographic of 13-to-35-years-old men — regularly tune into watch livestreaming e-sports matches on sites like MLG.tv and Twitch. And professional gaming could even dig into the NFL, MLB, and NBA over the next few decades as young people decide to stick with e-sports as they grow older.
ESPN likely knows that is a possibility, and it is establishing itself as an outlet to watch e-sports content despite recent comments from its president saying that games are not a sport. But even if he feels that way, he obviously sees the money potential by embracing this new market.