Yesterday news broke that Valve’s Dota 2 tournament, The International 2014, would be broadcast on ESPN. Well, ESPN2. Well, a preview show on ESPN2 with the event itself on ESPN’s streaming service, ESPN3.
Still, it’s pretty cool news all the same, as it’s mainstream recognition for Dota 2 fans and the tournament itself, which has likely attracted so much attention thanks in large part to its massive, nearly $11M prize pool, mostly raised by the community itself.
I’ve been covering eSports for a while now, through League of Legends, Starcraft, Smash, Dota, COD and more, but one refrain I keep hearing has never rung true with me. This idea that eSports needs to make it to television in order to become “legitimate.” I’m interviewed about eSports a lot these days (you’d be amazed at how many college kids are writing papers on the subject) and the question is always there. “Do you think eSports will be televised someday?”
My answer is always the same: Maybe, but it doesn’t need to be.
That’s why I don’t think the negative reaction to this International news is warranted, from fans who really don’t view it as a victory because the tournament is being relegated to stream on ESPN3 rather than be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2. In my eyes, streaming, on ESPN3, Twitch, MLG or what have you, is far and away the best way eSports can be consumed, and really, things would almost be moving backwards if eSports starting airing on TV.
Interest in eSports, be it Dota, League, Starcraft, and so on, is something that interests a largely younger crowd, those in their teens, twenties, or maybe thirties (with obvious exceptions). And while people may see millions and millions tuning into watch a tournament final online, the idea that those numbers would translate to ESPN if the match was broadcast there isn’t realistic. Namely, cable TV is becoming a dinosaur among the exact generation that’s so interested in eSports. Why do all this work to try and expand to a medium that the majority of your fanbase may not even want or be able to access?
But nearly everyone has access to a streaming internet device, and even the minimally tech savvy understand how to hook up an HDMI cable from a laptop to a TV to watch something on a bigger screen if they so choose.
Given the massive size and scope of these tournaments, a channel like ESPN would never dedicate a weekend to airing an entire Dota or LoL tournament, nor five hours a night of coverage to weekly leagues those games have. Then yes, an option is for some media magnate to get the idea to make an eSports dedicated channel, but again, this is looking backward, and solving a problem that doesn’t exist. There’s a clear and present shift away from traditional TV and to streaming. eSports is actually ahead of the game, by utilizing streaming since birth. eSports was born streaming, TV is just now starting to adopt it.
This idea that eSports needs to migrate en masse to television in order to be “taken seriously” or legitimized is misguided. Streaming is far and away the best way to consume these events, so seeing The International streaming on ESPN3 instead of airing on ESPN itself is actually a good thing. Though depending on how things go, fans may even wish they were watching on Twitch instead.
The question is not whether it would be progress if eSports ever made it to TV, it’s whether traditional sports can progress by being widely available on streams without a bulky cable subscription.
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