Back at the end of July we reported that CBS, home of The Masters and March Madness, and Nielsen Media Research were betting on gaming’s future. Now ESPN is getting into the game mix.
Gaming coverage on television isn’t new, but it’s interesting to see big names like CBS and ESPN dipping their big toes into the gaming pool. ESPN, the grand daddy of all sports television, has entered into a multiyear agreement with Major League Gaming (MLG) to provide exclusive online coverage of upcoming video game competitions.
The agreement includes streamed matches, player interviews, scores, and stats. ESPN will be onsite for each 2008 MLG Pro Circuit competition and will include content from the games in short segments on existing TV programs.
The temptation is to say that ESPN’s MLG gaming coverage is only online and that the cable network is not committing much valuable air time to MLG events on one of its cable channels. But think of this as a precursor of what’s to come.
Gaming will segue into more regular coverage on ESPN’s channels because that’s what one of the network’s main demographics want (see AdAge coverage). Younger sports fans still may be watching traditional big-time sports, but they also list playing games on consoles such as the Xbox and PlayStation as a favorite leisure activity. To them, gaming is infinitely more interesting than, say, golf or bowling.
Think about it. ESPN already covers non-traditional sports like poker and the national spelling bee — and don’t they still do those boring cheerleading championships? — so gaming is a natural addition.
“If things work out nicely, I hope to see a larger relationship down the road,” Raphael Poplock, VP of Games for ESPN Enterprises, told AdAge. “I’m bullish on professional gaming. This is a nice first step to establish a presence in this space.”
I may not be able to play video games well, but I — and many like me — find it interesting to watch others play. The players have skill levels, just like golfers and bowlers. And the story lines of video games are improving all the time, as is the gaming market itself (gaming’s best year ever).
As we noted back in July, if The Food Channel can make cake-baking competitive and Heidi Klum makes fashion design compelling on Bravo’s “Project Runway”, why not bring game-play to ESPN?