Turner, WME/IMG Form E-Sports League, With TBS to Air Live Events

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Turner Sports, WME-IMG to partner on gaming league.

Turner Broadcasting System and agency WME/IMG plan to create a new competitive gaming league and televise the tournaments. Turner Broadcasting and WME/IMG are about to find out whether live video-game competitions are ready for primetime TV: The companies have formed a new e-sports gaming league, with TBS set to broadcast 20 live events over the course of 2016.eSports have exploded in popularity over the last few years, with major tournaments rivaling (and even eclipsing) major traditional sports events in terms of viewership on streaming sites. Tens of millions of Americans are already watching others play video games on the Internet, but the fast-growing genre has yet to gain a foothold in traditional TV. The parties cut a deal with game publisher Valve to feature its “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” first-person shooter (pictured above) as the title that five-person teams will square off in head-to-head matchups during the league’s first season.

On Thursday, Turner Sports and WME-IMG will announce the partnership, a move that provides the clearest sign that the sport is poised to enter the mainstream. “I don’t look at this as a TV property,” said Turner Sports President Lenny Daniels. “We’re taking another platform that has a massive amount of viewership in TBS and we’re bringing it to a sport that needs it.” The companies would not release details of the deal or say how much they are investing in it. The partners see the yet-to-be-named league as an opportunity to grow the e-sports category, which is hugely popular online, by putting it on TV: “This is a way to bring e-sports to light and the 90 million homes TBS is in,” said Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports. Discussions between WME/IMG and Turner on the concept started about a year ago, Daniels said, and moved forward after Kevin Reilly joined Turner as chief creative officer and president of TBS and TNT.

Turner announced that it will stage two 10-week-long “seasons” in 2016, which will be played in a state-of-the-art facility in front of a live crowd at Turner studios. As for whether they considered teaming up with an existing e-sports league, Daniels said “it just didn’t make any sense” given the resources of each company.

The regular season will be shot with a live, studio audience on a TBS set; the playoffs and championship game could move to a local arena. “We’ve already had inquiries from several arenas that are interested in potentially being the home,” Shapiro said. He declined to disclose how much they’re investing in the league, but said contestants will be fighting for “meaningful prize money.” For WME/IMG, the new venture is part of its expanding portfolio of live-event franchises, coming after WME bought IMG Worldwide in late 2013. WME-IMG, which has experience in producing 800 events a year, from Professional Bull Riders to golf and tennis events, will produce the live events from Turner’s Atlanta studio.

Last month, 11,000 people packed Madison Square Garden for a regional championship for the videogame “League of Legends.” TBS, a unit of Time Warner Inc., TWX -0.53 % isn’t the only company to bet on videogames as a spectator sport. It will bring all of the bells and whistles and everything that we do for the mainstream events, like producing the Final Four, producing NBA Playoffs or Inside the NBA. AMZN -0.43 % spent about $970 million to buy Twitch Interactive Inc., a popular Web video channel for broadcasting and watching people play videogames.

But when it comes to e-sports, how many Americans will actually tune in to watch videogamers wearing headsets – with their avatars duking it out on big-screen monitors? Daniels and his counterparts at WME/IMG believe that TBS’s regular audience contains many potential fans of competitive gaming. “The great opportunity here is there are a ton of esports fans out there that don’t realize they’re esports fans yet,” said Tobias Sherman, the head of WME/IMG’s esports division. Just this week, daily fantasy sports site DraftKings said it would soon let users draft professional videogamers the same way you would draft a fantasy football team. It’s worth noting that when ESPN2 televised “Heroes of the Dorm” (pitting competitors playing “Heroes of the Storm”) in April, it generated a backlash on Twitter from viewers – and ESPN’s own employees and talent – disparaging the event as not worthy of the worldwide leader in sports. TBS is televising the men’s college basketball national championship game in April for the first time under its partnership with CBS, an event that is viewed as a chance to reach a large number of potential esports fans.

The e-sports audience in the U.S. is currently 32 million people and is expected to hit 50 million in 2017, according to Newzoo, a research firm that specializes in the gaming industry. This is … about telling the stories in a much different way” Competitive video games are notoriously difficult to comprehend if you haven’t played them yourself, especially MOBAs like League of Legends or Dota 2. Turner can also promote the league through its wide-ranging stable of networks and websites. “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” from Valve Corporation will be the featured game during the first season. Tobias Sherman, head of WME/IMG’s eSports division, said he expects the new league to expand the popularity of the pastime. “It’s my firm belief that there are many e-sports fans who don’t know they’re e-sports fans yet,” he said. “Hell, I was one.” “There’s no doubt in our mind that this is a sport – these are athletes… It’s competitive, and it requires endurance,” he said. “What hasn’t happened is that it hasn’t been exposed to a mainstream audience.” The formation of the e-sports league comes after WME/IMG in January acquired Global eSports Management, a talent agency repping pro-gaming clients co-founded by Sherman and Min-Sik Ko. At the network’s upfront advertising event this spring, it announced plans to push edgier programming and marketing to better attract that younger demo. “It’s a changing landscape out there — both technology and media consumption,” Shapiro said. “This partnership is going to have all kinds of legs that maximize and leverage the IMG and Turner portfolio of brands and assets.

Many first-time viewers were understandably baffled by ESPN 2’s broadcast of Heroes of the Storm, with its almost indecipherable commentary and strategy, but Counter-Strike might be a perfect gateway to eSports for new fans. The game, a first-person shooter that pits teams of five players against each other on a variety of maps, first released in 2000 and has been played competitively for more than a decade. Turner and WME/IMG executives believe that by creating a new league from scratch and heavily marketing the characters and story lines, they can build up viewership. So rather than go with a more lore-based title that has more nuance to it, Counter-Strike is very easily understandable from a basic cursory level.” The lineup of teams that choose to participate will be crucial — the majority of top CS:GO teams are based in Europe, and if Turner can lure the likes of Fnatic, Ninjas in Pyjamas or TSM to Atlanta, the massive fanbases of those teams will provide a huge audience from day one. “We are inviting the best rosters to show up, without excluding the underdogs,” Sherman said “I think that’s important, because there’s a lot of stories that can be told about the underdogs beating a Goliath, and we’re hoping to see some of that throughout the first 10 weeks of the league.” The league will be non-exclusive, meaning that teams involved will still be able to participate in the global CS:GO tournament circuit alongside Turner’s league. For any form of entertainment, said WME/IMG chief content officer Mark Shapiro, the key ingredients for success are competition, personalities and a compelling format.

On TV, TBS plans to feature 10 consecutive weeks of e-sports programming, twice per year, with a schedule that includes playoffs and a championship round. Additionally, the Turner-WME/IMG e-sports league is set to produce extensive digital content, which will include live daily competitive gaming Tuesday through Friday during each tournament week, as well as a live digital companion experience on Friday nights simultaneously with the TBS airings. Digital content will also include behind-the-scenes event coverage and profiles on the e-sports teams and competitors, with additional coverage available through Bleacher Report’s Team Stream App.

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