Jul 23 2014 - 1:24 pm

Esports doesn't need ESPN

At 8:30pm ET on July 20, esports aired on ESPN2
Ferguson Mitchell
Dot Esports

At 8:30pm ET on July 20, esports aired on ESPN2. With reach to almost 91 million households in America alone (about 85 percent of the nation), this 30 minute program, which served as a preview for the following day’s Dota 2 grand finals at The International, could have been one of the industry’s biggest opportunities to finally become mainstream.

But it wasn't.

I didn't watch. And you probably didn’t either.

Check your local listings, but esports’ next big chance was sandwiched between a rerun of “You Don’t Know Bo” and ESPN FC (a soccer news program) followed shortly thereafter by something called the “Crossfit Games.”

I'm hardly saying this was ESPN 8: The “Ocho" territory. But the reality is that “Live at the International” has broken down no barriers that weren’t already toppling over.

Watch ESPN, the sports giant’s streaming site, broadcasted The International 4 in full. This marked one of the first times that an complete event has run on a site managed by a major broadcasting network—and, to my knowledge, the first time this has happened in the U.S.

But also broadcasting on Watch ESPN as I write this—Kent and Somerset going all out in an enticing round of cricket.

ESPN’s investment into esports, at this point, is about as minimal as it gets. There is no big risk on their part rebroadcasting a stream that is also being run on Twitch and the event’s own homepage. And by the same token, esports won’t explode into suddenly being a big mainstream phenomenon with the simple addition of “ESPN” at the front of a stream URL.

In fact, Watch ESPN's streaming numbers barely challenge esports streaming sites like Twitch. Earlier this month, the biggest sporting event in the world —the World Cup—broke ESPN and Univision’s online streaming records with 5.3 million unique viewers. Last year's edition of The International drew 4.5 million to Twitch—numbers that will likely be dwarfed by this year's event.

In fact, it seems that the only benefit the deal provides is to ESPN, who seek to drive more people to their streaming site. It’s important to note at this point that Watch ESPN follows a lot of the same draconian rules that a lot of broadcast television companies adhere to—cable subscriptions for premium content (notably, the biggest sporting events).

Adding Dota 2 to ESPN’s streaming lineup, while an acceptable nod to the growth of the scene, does very little towards pushing esports further. Posts like this one on Reddit are exactly the reason why:

Watch it people! Even if their streams suck, keep it in your non-main tab. Even if the special sucks, keep it on your TV but muted. ESPN is taking a huge risk on this sport, and they need to be rewarded with viewership.

I know we probably aren't their (ESPN's) target audience, but that just makes us more important. ESPN is doing this for viewers/ratings; and while there's no guarantee they'll bring it back next year if it's highly watched, I can guarantee that if it's not highly watched they'll cut their losses and run.

So, if you want to watch Dota on your TV on a main station next year, or a few years from now; If you want esports to really grow and become a mainstream thing, tune in and watch! (Emphasis added).

This post rose to the top of the Dota 2 subreddit shortly after the news broke a week ago.

Why should anyone watch something if it ‘sucks'? Why should anyone cater to inferior products when Twitch and other esports-minded stream providers (who don’t lock out content if you don’t have a cable subscription) are better?”

It’s simple Entertainment Darwinism: If you want something to grow, watch it. If you want something to grow and get better, watch the best version of it.

The lesson esports fans send to ESPN if they blindly watch a 30-minute special is that they want more 30-minute specials. If they watch the stream on ESPN3, then they only open ourselves up to the inevitability of the highest-level esports broadcasts being locked out to those without a cable subscription. Is that what they really want?

I’d like to propose a counter-argument. What if ESPN came to Twitch?

“The entire cable television industrial complex is being kept afloat by live sports," notes an article on The International 4  at sports news site Sports On Earth.

"As competitive video gaming gets larger—and it is—television will demand to be a part. That's the reason this was on ESPN2 in the first place. These tournaments have had success in streaming, and television, ever in search of eyeballs, saw that and gave it a shot.”

If the restrictive cable model is being kept alive by live sports, then imagine how big a threat esports is. Twitch, the primary streaming site for many gamers, had around 45 million visitors in 2013, an over 100 percent growth from 2012. The International had over $10 million in prize money up for grabs, much of it crowdfunded, and it’s far from the only successful esports venture out there (MLG, ESL, LCS, just to name a few).

It’s no big surprise to say that online streaming is the future. Netflix is turning into an entertainment powerhouse, with almost 50 million subscribers paying monthly fees, and eight new originals in production. YouTube, while free, has over 1 billion unique visitors each month.

ESPN “adopting” a weekend-long esports tournament really is a tiny splash in a much, much bigger pond. And it’s not like esports on TV hasn’t been tried before (with little success). ESPN’s Madden Nation eventually turned into just another reality show about personality conflicts as it avoided actual esports content. Arguably, attempting to backpedal to cater to the rigorous standards that television requires (commercial breaks, set time limits, among many others) would only make the current broadcasts we have that much worse.

At the current pace, it won’t take long before esports start to overshadow many traditional sports. Last year’s American League Championship Series, for example, drew 8.26 million baseball fans to watch game two, while the League of Legends World Championships drew 32 million—granted, that included international viewers. But keep in mind, League of Legends is only five years old. Baseball is 168, give or take.

The bottom line: While ESPN’s new deal with the International looks great in headlines, it won’t do much to change the industry. It already has the momentum it needs to reach national and international recognition. Esports is growing at a truly massive rate, and it’s clearly gotten the attention of the big dogs. So now that they are sniffing around, why just throw ourselves at their feet?

I say we make them work for it.

Screengrab via Dota2ti/Twitch

Jan 22 2017 - 9:12 pm

Hearthstone's NA vs CN event ends in controversy

The Chinese players were coasting to victory, but their final win provoked minor outrage.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

China's best Hearthstone players turned back a team of the best North America had to offer—but the event did not end without controversy.

In the final game of the event series, China's "Lvge" made a play that seemed to defy logic. He played Dirty Rat on turn two, risking pulling a hugely advantageous early Tomb Pillager or Gadgetzan Auctioneer for his opponent Keaton "Chakki" Gill.

However, according to the American players the Chinese casters and Lvge's teammates were screaming to play the Rat when he picked the card up, and with no white noise in the player headsets Lvge could likely hear the noise and take the cue.

The play promoted a furious series of tweets from Tempo Storm founder and Team NA player Andrey "Reynad" Yanyuk—though the tweets were later deleted.

Chakki and other players have also commented on the controversy, claiming that they raised the issue of players being able to hear the casters. The other members of each team were also watching the stream of the game, meaning they could see the hands of the opposing player.

There was little that could be done to address the controversy unless the admins immediately halted the game in progress, as the game was tournament point for the Chinese side.

Despite the controversial finish, team China had run away with the tournament to get into that position. Thanks to two wins by "OmegaZero" and "Lovelychook" over the two day event, Lvge was left with only Chakki left to beat.

China had also won the first of the three showpiece events, before Canada's Julien “Cydonia” Perrault had single-handedly won the second for team North America.

Jan 21 2017 - 5:09 pm

UFC champion Demetrious Johnson on video games, investing in esports, and why Infiltration is his favorite player

He's the best MMA fighter in the world, and esports has his attention.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via UFC | Zuffa

Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson has a nickname worthy of esports. Which is good, because it turns out the number one pound for pound fighter in the world is a fan.

In between defending the UFC flyweight championship, something he has done a near-record nine times, Johnson chills out the way he always has—playing video games. But now he does that while streaming to an audience of over 82,000 fans on Twitch.

Gaming and online broadcasting has become a massive part of Johnson's career. We spoke to the champ about gaming, esports, and how his two passions have aligned to make him one of the most unique and engaging athletes on the planet.

Obviously we will mostly be talking about gaming, but were you happy with how things went for you inside the octagon last year?

Hell yeah. I had an injury to overcome and got two fights in. Two wins, one finish and one pretty decisive war against Tim Elliot, so I'm pretty happy about that.

Your fighting career and gaming passion have intersected before. In the past you were the only combat sports athlete sponsored by Xbox. How did that come about?

It came about because of my gaming connection, and Microsoft were very passionate about getting behind athletes and Seattle, which is where the Xbox was originally created. I'm a huge game player, so the two brand just merged so well. I know people who worked at Microsoft at the time. It wasn't revolutionizing sports, but it was the first time they ever sponsored a fighter, and the first time ever the UFC was going to be streaming live on Facebook. That was pretty much the first livestream for the UFC. They don't do Facebook anymore, now we have UFC Fight Pass. 

Obviously I fit the brand really well but especially with Xbox, I was passionate about video games before Xbox was around. Back when it was Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Dreamcast, I was in love with that stuff. I played a lot while doing sports. So when the UFC was going to merge with that and doing Facebook live streaming, Xbox saw that as an opportunity to get their name out in the sport of mixed martial arts.

What games and teams are you following in the esports world?

The biggest ones that everyone follows, League of Legends, Dota 2, CS:GO. But I really like to watch the fighting game events, like Evo. Razer have an esports team, Red Bull have an esports team, but the one I really like to follow is Infiltration who plays for Razer, he uses Nash on Street Fighter V. I know I watched Northern Gaming in the World of Warcraft tournaments, but that stuff gets too stressful man! You about to kill a guy and next thing you know he gets healed all the way and I'm like "fuck!" It takes forever. I'm a big WoW guy, but I do wonder why I play it sometimes. I love the game but when it comes to streaming, it's not the most entertaining game to watch on the stream unless you're really really into it. But I love WoW. 

I watched Echo Fox compete at the H1Z1 Invitational, I competed against them. So if there's a game I like, I'll see if there's an esports scene and see if there's a player I like. But the one that really sticks out to me is Infiltration.

Have you ever made it to an esports event in person?

I have not. The only event I've ever went to was the H1Z1 Invitational when Echo Fox were playing, but I was in it. 

We'll see which ones are going on, I know TwitchCon has already been announced and I'm probably going to go to that. H1Z1 is probably going to have an Invitational there. I'm sure Echo Fox will be involved there. I know they have the Dota 2 event at the Key Arena in Seattle.

Right now, traditional sports figures are lining up to get involved in esports. Do you see yourself turning esports from a passion into something more?

Yeah, hopefully. I'd love to sit down with them [UFC owners WME-IMG] and see how the business side works of an esports team. I haven't really had a chance yet. One of the Echo Fox managers used to manage [former UFC champion] Rampage Jackson, and he talked to me about potentially looking into it and seeing if I wanted to get involved. But at the same time it's got to make good business sense for me. I don't understand the logistics of it. You buy an esports team, what's your return, you're hoping that your team wins? There's a little bit more that I need to understand.

Now being a commentator? Whatever the game, I'd absolutely love to do that.

Do you think these people from traditional sports are doing the right thing, investing in esports? Is it the next big thing that they need to be a part of?

If the people are passionate about it and follow it absolutely. It depends on what the investment opportunities are and what the payout is. It's a little bit difficult. Guys like Rick Fox, they have other things and they've made millions and millions of dollars. I heard someone say an esports team costs at least $40,000 or something to get started. It all depends on the opportunities. You got to look at all of the logistics of it. It's a cool idea and a badass thing to be apart of, but it's got to be more than just thrown in for me. We'll see what happens.

Is there any game that isn't currently a major esport that you would love to see on the big stage?

Oh man. If it's an esport, it has to be competitive. I would say Dead Space multiplayer. You would have to fight each other, and also have the necromorphs coming at you as well. Almost like a free-for-all. The one I would really love to see make it as an esport is H1Z1, but there's just so many variables and things that don't work out. Everybody doesn't get a fair chance to start out, so I think it will be hard placed right now.