When you think of sports coverage, what is the first thing that comes to mind? The powerhouse of sports media, ESPN. They cover every sport from the most common and popular, like football and basketball, to the little known or seasonal, like lacrosse or the Olympics.
They even have sections of their website dedicated to sports that aren’t televised – anywhere. I ‘m looking at you cross country. The point is, with such a wide and deep range of coverage for all things sports, there is no reason for any field or arena to go uncovered. Yet there is one genre of sport that ESPN barely ever takes notice of and that is eSports, which is also known as competitive gaming.
Even after ESPN covered The International, a tournament with an astounding $11.5 million prize pool, there was no other coverage of Defense of the Ancients (DotA), the game being played. There was no attempt to pull in viewers who are fans of the game with player coverage, team standings or all of the other things that SportsCenter finds to debate about conventional sports. Still, you might say that one tournament doesn’t make a sport, and you would be right. The impressive part, though, is that isn’t the half of it.
This past month has been a whirlwind for the world of eSports. League of Legends had its world championship series finish up with Samsung White winning out over Star Horn Royal Club. This event was shown on ESPN3, but this is strictly an online format. Starcraft 2 went to BlizzCon and crowned its world champion Life, who had a very difficult and impressive run to the finals. Hearthstone also crowned its grand champion at BlizzCon, with Firebat winning 3-0 over TD.
All prizes totaled, eSports awarded over $2.5 million to the winners of various major tournaments, and more people watched the League of Legends World Championship (27 million viewers) than watched to Game 7 of the World Series and NBA Finals. On average, the World Series was only able to draw 13.8 million viewers, while the NBA Finals had 15.5 million tune in. While the largest audience at once, ironically according to ESPN, only reached 11.2 million for the World Championship, the numbers are still striking.
So, where is the coverage? If so many people are paying attention to these games and the professionals that play them, why isn’t the media getting in on the action? It seems to me if ESPN can make a front page for endurance sports, it can do just about whatever it wants. Trouble is, it seems like they really don’t want to.
“[eSports are] not a sport,” ESPN President John Skipper said recently at the Code/Media Series: New York conference. “It’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”
There is a legitimate flaw in that sort of logic. There are several, actually. First, to compare eSports like DotA and League of Legends to chess is inaccurate, since chess requires no hand-eye coordination or reaction time of any sort, making them far less physical in nature. Second, I question what qualifies for sports on ESPN when you consider that they show poker, which consists of no physical exertion, and yet is a game of strategy and luck.
For my part, I would love to see coverage of eSports on conventional channels that have all things sports-related. I think ESPN is missing a huge section of the population that would love to consume this sort of information. In the end, they may regret putting on the blinders when the wide world of eSports goes on without them.