The biggest name in eSports is coming to ESPN. The Overwatch League will be shown on ESPN, ABC and the kid-focused cable Network DisneyXD. Disney will be going all in with its coverage, and Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz points out that the company has every reason to do so.
After a couple of years of preparation, Overwatch League began play in January with 12 teams representing different cities in the U.S., the United Kingdom, South Korea, and China, $20 million franchise fees, and ownership groups involving NFL figures like Robert Kraft and Stan Kroenke, plus Comcast and a Mets’ sister company. The broadcasts so far have been on Twitch and (the Activision Blizzard-owned) Major League Gaming’s mlg.tv, and they’ve drawn excellent numbers, including a per-minute audience of 408,000 viewers for opening day (above Amazon’s Thursday Night Football streaming numbers, albeit with some caveats) and over 10 million unique users across the first week.
The new deal calls for coverage of live events, as well as recap shows and highlight packages, which will likely show up on SportsCenter occasionally. The real value for those packages though, might be on ESPN’s and Disney’s digital platforms.
Live coverage begins right away with quarterfinal action being carried Wednesday July 11 on DisneyXD and ESPN3. Semifinal action next week will move to ESPNews and ESPN2 respectively.
Buchholtz says Disney’s commitment to Overwatch is risky, but points to Overwatch’s standing in the world of eSports as justification for the deal.
We’ll see how this winds up performing for ESPN, and what sort of placement Overwatch League winds up with going forward. While many networks have gotten into esports broadcasting, the viewership numbers on conventional TV haven’t always been great, and much of the audience perhaps is used to and/or prefers the digital streams. But Overwatch League is certainly an esports property that’s attracted a lot of buzz and viewership on digital platforms so far, and it’s one that might be a good fit for ESPN.