By Tashan Reed
NASHVILLE – In the 2016 NBA Finals LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win Golden State Warriors. Thirty million viewers watched as one of the most popular athletes of all-time added another another highlight to his illustrious career.
That same year, 46 million people watched the League of Legends World Championships.
“This is reaching a global audience and already has reached more people than some traditional sports events,” said Glenn Abernathy, who played eSports at Christopher Newport University.
Although the eSports community is still fighting to be taken seriously, the success that its leagues have had is undeniable. Business Insider estimates that eSports leagues will create a global market that’ll generate $1.5 billion in revenue by 2020.
Abernathy paired with senior director of properties for Soccer United Marketing James Ruth to explore how sports editors can catch up to speed, cover and benefit from eSports at the 2018 APSE Summer Conference on Tuesday. Chris Fickett, the deputy sports editor at The Kansas City Star, moderated the workshop panel.
Instead of vying to compete with eSports, some major professional sports leagues are collaborating with them. In 2017, the NBA and Take-Two Interactive launched the NBA 2K League.
“It’s able to pump a lot more revenue into the sport and it allows the salaries to rise,” Abernathy said. “Looking toward the future of player salaries, this was just the first wave. I’d imagine that once some of the true stars, the true aces enter the free agent market in the next couple years, they’re going to be vying for seven-figure contracts.”
ESports are backed by a devout fanbase that follow along by the millions on YouTube and Twitch and go watch in person. While these fans are quick to watch eSports on livestreams, many journalism publications have struggled with drawing them to their content.
“The thing to drill down on is, what are the additional storylines that are out there, either with the players or the teams that are participating, that you can double click on and provide that additional perspective that they can’t get just watching?” Ruth said.
“That’s the sort of content that we’ve seen perform really well,” he added. “Where is this player coming from? What are their motivations? What did they think of the event? How do we get inside their head? I think that’s something that any reader would be pretty interested in.”