The BBC's investment in eSports marks a potential turning point for the sector, leading experts say.
For the first time in the UK, competitive gaming will no longer be the reserve of specialist streaming services but will instead be widely accessible thanks to the broadcast of the League of Legends World Championships quarter finals on the BBC Three website.
The people who are already watching eSports watch it through live streaming sites such as Twitch and lolesports.com,” explained Michael ‘ODEE' O'Dell, manager of UK eSports side Team Dignitas.
What we lack in the UK is education to the mainstream about eSports.
There's a huge amount of viewers that the BBC has that Twitch doesn't have yet. Someone like the BBC broadcasting it to their viewership on their website will reach people who haven't seen eSports before and will hopefully convert them to fans, which is ultimately the long-term future for the sector.”
Adam Simmons, eSports and broadcast manager at live streaming platform DingIt, agreed: The BBC coverage is definitely positive. It brings eSports to a huge audience that may have no idea it even exists.”
James Lampkin, VP of pro-gaming strategy and content at ESL, said that, if the BBC's coverage is successful, other TV giants could follow suit.
It is never too little, or too late, for UK broadcasters to work in eSports, but it can be a confusing and fast-moving place. We expect there will be more eSports broadcasting in the UK in the future, either in prime-time TV slots or through streaming platforms.”
O'Dell believes eSports has the potential to ignite a battle over broadcasting rights in the UK once mainstream coverage is assured.
I predict bidding rights going to whoever for whichever game,” he said. I see it hopefully turning into something like the Premier League, with a 1 billion television deal.”
Simmons agreed: We could potentially see people such as the ESL start negotiating broadcasting deals with people including the BBC.”
Anna Baumann, an attorney-at-law specialising in eSports, suggested that another outcome may be the formation of pro-gaming tournaments by TV firms.
The moment a traditional broadcaster decides to organise and produce a league themselves, the broadcasting landscape could change drastically,” she advised.
However, this is unlikely to happen. Traditional and digital media cater to different audiences and can be seen as complementary.”
A BBC spokesperson told MCV that any further investment in the sector would depend on the reception to the League of Legends experiment.
eSports is a massive global industry and is continually growing as a spectator sport. It is an area BBC Sport are keen to explore further and we are pleased to be supporting BBC Three in this innovative project.”