As ESPN begins their search for a dedicated eSports editor, thus completing their 180-degree-turn on the subject, competitive gaming becomes the next battleground for mainstream sports networks.
Just four months after Sports Nation co-host and regular ESPN pundit Colin Cowherd declared he would quit if forced to cover eSports following the network's coverage of Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm, the broadcaster is redoubling their efforts to enter the space.
The recently-departed Cowherd need not worry about being forced to interview 'spotty teens' at major international events, partially because he is now found on the Fox Sports channel, but also as the Disney part-owned network is looking to build an experienced eSports section.
The role, a standard editorship aimed at news coverage and features, is also aimed at bringing such coverage into other areas of the network's broadcasting – including radio, TV and print. The latter of which hosted their first eSports-dedicated issue in June with Seattle Seahawks star player Marshawn Lynch as the cover feature, discussing his upcoming appearance in Treyarch's Black Ops III.
All of this progress is a far cry from just 12 months ago, when ESPN's then-and-current president John Skipper spoke dismissively of eSports coverage, stating "It's not a sport – it's a competition. Chess is a competition. Chequers is a competition. Mostly I'm interested in doing real sports."
As a precursor to this about-turn, another prominent sports reporting network, TheScore, has proven that this mainstream approach can be fruitful.
Coming into their eighth month of operation, the platform now fully supports Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm, albeit with manually entered match information.
Kyle Chatterson, Managing Editor of TheScore eSports, believes that the success the team have seen in their opening months stems from their existing structural support by being a mainstream provider beforehand, and that the approach could be adopted by others in the sector.
"I think mainstream media are starting to see the big numbers involved in eSports, from viewing figures to prize pools, and realise it's a spacedeserving of coverage," Chatterson told eSports Pro. "For us, covering eSports was always a no-brainer which is why we were able to be first to market with a dedicated eSports app. eSports is here to stay, so it's not surprising to see others beginning to take a notice."
ESPN's postured entrance to the sector would seem to support this hypothesis, especially given their institutionalised adversity to eSports in recent times.
Another huge network with pre-existing infrastructure should be a warning flag to Chatterson, however he seems confident in the Canadian company's product.
"We've always embraced competition and we expect to compete the same way we already do withothermainstream media companies with our flagship app," he said. "We've created a great product that eSports fans have already embraced and they seem to be enjoying our 100% commitment to taking competitive gaming as seriously as it should be."