Turner Broadcasting and WME/IMG are about to find out whether live video-game competitions are ready for primetime TV: The companies have formed a new e-sports gaming league, with TBS set to broadcast 20 live events over the course of 2016. “We’re looking forward to creating a tremendous live event atmosphere, leveraging the infrastructure and expertise within Turner Studios, and presenting the competitions in an innovative way throughout our portfolio of leading brands”.
On top of the televised matches every Friday evening, TBS will produce “competitive gaming content” Tuesday through Friday on digital platforms. Turner Studios in Atlanta will become the East Coast epicenter for eSports competitive gaming, serving as the headquarters for the new league and primary operations facility for the live gaming experience. “This is about building a league from the beginning to the end and really remaking how people think about eSports play, how they get involved and how the stories are told”.
Valve is the first publisher the group have signed on to feature games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on the first season of the televised competition. In addition, TBS is tapping its Bleacher Report website to create “behind-the-scenes” event coverage, including player profiles and more.
WME | IMG made a big bet on the space previous year through its acquisition of Global eSports Management, which represents professional video game players and commentators, and now manages several large eSports fanchises. Right now, most people watch esports via live-streaming sites like Twitch.
“We are proud to establish a leadership position in this rapidly growing arena, which I see as a tent pole for the next chapter of TBS”, said Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT, chief creative officer for Turner. According to data from research firm NewZoo included in the league announcement, the current American eSports audience is around 32 million viewers, and is expected to grow to more than 50 million by 2017. “They have a core team that understands eSports and speak the language”.
Counter-Strike: GO is a safe choice for cable. He declined to disclose how much they’re investing in the league, but said contestants will be fighting for “meaningful prize money”.
An airdate has not been announced yet, but Turner and WME/IMG plan to share more programming details later this year. “We can bring audiences that might not have been exposed to eSports and expose them to it”, explains Daniels.