ESPN in Talks with Riot Games
Sources have told PvPLive that sports broadcasting giant ESPN is currently in talks with Riot Games to televise the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). The deal is estimated to be worth $500 million and it is not specified if the deal includes the European league or the North American league.
The acquisition of broadcast or streaming rights by a cable company would be a first in League of Legends. Currently, eSports games are broadcast on online platforms like Twitch or Azubu. Recently, Turner Broadcasting partnered with WME/IMG to bring Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to the cable station TBS. ELEAGUE is set to begin May 24.
In the past, League of Legends has seen viewership numbers that rival large traditional sports. When Samsung White won the championship in 2014, 27 million unique viewers watched the team take the crown. That same year, the World Series averaged 15.8 million viewers and the Heat-Spurs NBA Finals averaged 15.5 million viewers. The LoL World Finals even beat US viewership of the World Cup Finals (26.5 million). This World Finals also happened to be ESPN’s first try at streaming League of Legends content.
LCS viewership numbers have also risen this season, climbing 11.7% in weekly hours watched, according to Gameloco. According to the data posted on the company’s website, the 2016 LCS has beaten the 2015 season in every week. The graph is only for the main Twitch LCS stream though, so the total viewership numbers are expected to be even higher with streams spanning dozens of platforms and languages.
“Broadcasting rights are by far the most untapped revenue stream in esports,” tweeted esports lawyer Bryce Blum. “This would be the first step.”
With just over a week before the European LCS begins the summer split, the timeline for a deal is expected to be condensed. Both sides will need to move quickly to get the deal done in time for the EU and NA summer splits. If the deal is not done before the start of the splits, it might be a hint that the deal would only encompass the World Championship tournament. ESPN is no stranger to exclusive playoff content, having purchased the rights to the College Football Playoffs for $7.3 billion.
The potential deal gives Riot a massive cash influx and many questions as to where the cash will go. In the past, Riot has insisted that the LCS brings in no net revenue, even with the major sponsors that have signed on. Player base salaries provided by Riot have not changed in years, according to many experts. With this influx, Riot has a chance to create a more stable, healthy environment for LCS pros and challenger players. Some are not convinced that will happen.
“Betting almost none of it goes into the pockets of the players,” tweeted GAMURS writer Duncan “Thorin” Shields.
“The pie might be big enough that this acts as a galvanizing moment,” replied Bryce Blum.
How Riot handles this possible new mainstream attention and massive cash influx will be vital in determining the long term prospects for the professional league. This new deal has the potential to bring esports mainstream or doom it mediocrity.
UPDATE: ESPN has responded with an official statement.
"The story is false. We do not deal with Riot Games to broadcast League of Legends."
We will keep you updated on this developing situation, so make sure to check back here for any breaking news in the esports industry.
What do you think this potential television deal means for the future of watching esports? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.