ESPN+ has its sites set on the esports community, but will gamers pay $4.99/mo for something they can watch for free on YouTube or Twitch?
ESPN is looking to cash in on the quickly growing esports industry — which is expected to be worth more than $1 billion in 2019 (up from $325 million in 2015). The Disney-owned network announced today that its streaming service, ESPN+, will soon be home to Riot Games’ “League of Legends” live tournaments and events, starting with next month’s North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split.
This would be the perfect way for ESPN to effectively widen the reach of its recently launched platform, but, unfortunately for the network, it doesn’t have exclusive rights to the programming, meaning that fans have multiple options of viewing the event — many that don’t require paying an ESPN+ subscription fee.
With the championship series already set to stream on YouTube and Amazon-owned Twitch — one of the most trusted social video platforms for gamers — ESPN is going to face some tough competition in the fight for eyeballs. Still, whether exclusive or not, streaming esports gives the network a chance to attract the young male gaming demographic that advertisers crave. To that affect, over the past several years, the sports network has steadily increased its coverage of the gaming universe. It has already launched a page dedicated to esports, which provides coverage on the subject like it would football or baseball, and its @ESPN_Esports Twitter account has nearly half a million followers.
“We saw how responsive the fan base was, how tremendous the storytelling opportunities were and, for those of us not already immersed in the industry, how similar it was from a competitive standpoint to what we already cover,” Chad Millman, editor in chief of ESPN.com told Fortune when asked why ESPN was investing in gaming. “It didn’t seem like that much of a stretch then to get aggressive about creating a digital destination.”
According to Statista, there are over 2 billion gamers in the world, a number that is expected to hit nearly 3 billion in 2020. As the industry becomes more lucrative, the esports demographic will be a huge opportunity for businesses trying to attract eyeballs to their platforms. Already, Facebook and Youtube have launched their own gaming initiatives in an attempt to compete with Twitch. Even Time Warner’s TBS has been broadcasting esports events.
The real question here is whether or not companies like Riot Games or Epic Games will eventually launch their own OTT service, which could be a worrisome situation — even for Twitch.