Turner Sports’ ELEAGUE Takes A Swing At Becoming Mainstream
Whether or not you know or care about professional video gamers, a historic moment is about to happen. Turner Sports is set to unveil their new eSports league all this week using various media outlets including a 10pm EST spot on their TBS cable channel. Utilizing the digital warzone video game that is called Counter-Strike, Turner sports, partnered with WME | IMG, have dedicated a massive 10,000 sq ft. sports arena bristling with cameras and all other sorts of lighting. Set with a prize pool to the tune of over $1,000,000, this tourney hopes to spark the ‘mainstream’ coverage of eSports in general.
Valve’s trademark first person shooter is basically the competitive granddaddy of the modern day console based Call of Duty multiplayer for except PC gamers. I’m certain hardcore gamers will blast that comparison but for casual purposes, that’ll do. Stripped of all of the killstreaks and perks and such, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a well balanced juggernaut that has been an eSports staple for many years. Dating way back to 2012, for this version of the franchise, Counter-Strike is the perfect game for a debut cable eSports league. There are no respawns, no health packs, and no hand holding!
So the real question will be, “How well or poorly will this catch on for the casual TV watcher?”
Honestly, I have a hard time seeing eSports going anywhere in the mainstream market right now. It just isn’t ‘there’ yet. I’ve seen small little shows that cover a specific gaming tournament and they’ve been a modest attempt at making a Science TV or reality show-style special at best. I mean, the real way you make competitions like this interesting is that you have either contestants that are personable or relatable or you have competitions and matches that are just breathtaking to watch.
When it comes to the ‘marketability’ of the contestants, you’re basically going to have that whole barrier of American culture where the standard person just doesn’t “respect” gaming or gamers. That whole perception of not only the industry but the hobby itself is a bit of a hurdle. I honestly feel that in order for American culture to overcome that perception is that ‘they’ (or TBS) has to do a spectacular job of digging into the teams or contestants to a level that makes people respect the process of becoming a professional gamer. Yeah…exactly. You even speak ‘pro gamer’ to someone today and all you hear is most adults saying “I don’t have time for gaming anymore” or simply “I’m too old to do all that”. Honestly, as a father, writer, husband, etc, I can almost relate. Even my wife gets on me about the time I spend playing games and it is, in part, my job.
Here’s what I feel has to happen before this first hurdle can be overcome. There needs to be a common ‘face’ of the gaming community on mainstream TV or something of that sort. At one point, that was the G4TV crew and that has fallen by the wayside since not enough ‘geeks’ watched it. Right now, it feels as if geekdom is so segregated and dispersed that we all have one too many ‘communities’ to keep up with or join or follow. As a result, those that are only somewhat interested in gaming (much less eSports), have a hard time keeping up with what’s what. (Oh how I wish I could be the ‘face’ or ‘remedy’ for all you casuals out there!) YouTubers seem to be taking up that helm now that we are in the digital age. It will be interesting to see if some Twitch streamers and YouTubers will start translating in to TV personalities that others outside of the geek/gaming community will start getting to know.
At one point I felt that the solution to the hurdle was to have LAN party stores that are more common throughout the nation. Here’s why that is AND isn’t the solution by itself. On the positive side of that idea, the LAN party store would be a simple way for a potential fan to try out an eSports game or at least meet some others who have or do. The stores are also the entry point for amateurs to see what it takes to become pro by doing some tournaments. On the negative side of things, LAN party stores don’t usually have a high success rate. Given their bread and butter is to get people to come to the store to play games (when most do it at home now), it is a bit counter intuitive… unless… you have a creative way to build and maintain a local gaming community. Personally, I’ve yet to see it done in a locale that didn’t have a college population. Nonetheless, the phenomenon of eSports is going to have to have a realistic entry point for common or casual gamers if it is going to have a chance to thrive.
Realistically, the common person gets their news and entertainment from a variety of sources but ANY marketer will tell you that TV is still a very powerful medium. ELEAGUE and eSports will need either some sort of inventive viral social media promotion or for some visionary to come up with a respectable model for a geek/gaming channel that could pull some serious viewership. Until then, us gamers will just have to support the phenomenon ourselves.