There were these headlines and stories on ESPN.com Wednesday.
If you went “huh, what?” in reaction to those stories, you are not alone. I have no idea what any of that means.
However, there is a rather large and growing audience that will devour every word of those stories. They are devotees of e-sports, and they represent a new opportunity for mainstream sports sites.
Earlier this year, ESPN.com launched an e-sports site dedicated to covering all things "League of Legends," "Madden," "Call of Duty" and much, much more. Other sites have followed suit in an attempt to tap into all the gamers out there.
As someone who follows the traditional sports and is basically clueless about e-sports, I asked Chad Millman, editor of ESPN.com: Why is this a thing?
“It has everything our fanbase is interested in,” Millman said. “There are highly skilled competitors involved in intense, compelling competition. There’s drama and intrigue. For that reason, our audience, which might not be aware of it now, might be potentially interested in these stories. And there is a massive audience out there that doesn’t necessarily duplicate what we have now that wants what this kind of coverage.”
Yes, but does e-sports really fall under the category of being sports? There is plenty of drama and intrigue in "Top Chef" competitions. Why not cover that too?
“That’s a big leap from cooking to e-sports,” Millman said. “Listen, we’re in the business of serving sports fans. We’re not in the business of judging what they are interested in. Our audience, especially around the edges, has a passion for this.”
Millman said ESPN has been broadcasting e-sports events for years. However, momentum for the site began when Millman, then serving as editor of ESPN Magazine, decided to dedicate an issue to e-sports last year.
After reading the stories, especially a piece by Mina Kimes about "League of Legends" legend Faker, Millman began intrigued, saying he even had “butterflies.”
“I thought there was a massive opportunity to get aggressive and develop a vertical,” Millman said.
ESPN’s e-sports staff includes three editors and two writers. The site also has other contributors from ESPN.com, including sports business writer Darren Rovell. The mission is clear, Millman said.
“Our goal is to cover e-sports with the same credibility as we cover the NBA, NHL, NFL or any other major sport,” Millman said. “We want to be thoughtful about our storytelling and thoughtful about our journalism.”
Thus far, Millman said he couldn’t be happier about the initial response. While he declined to divulge numbers, he said the e-sports site has a large audience in the 18-34 demographic, the sweet spot for advertisers. Traffic, he said, continues to grow nicely each month.
“There are people who are incredibly dedicated to this kind of coverage,” Millman said. “They all have opinions, and they are completely engaged on social media. A huge amount of our traffic is coming from social media.”
Given all the early data, Millman says, launching the vertical was a no-brainer. He notes that sites that stand still will be gone in short order in today’s media landscape. He says it is essential for ESPN.com to be open to change and continue to evolve.
“The prism through which [the younger demographic] looks at sports is much different than before,” Millman said. “If we don’t change and grow, we’re not serving that audience….Nobody is asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’ The only thing people are saying is, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense.’”
As for Millman, he knew next to nothing about e-sports a couple years ago. He knows much more now, but he hardly comes close to anywhere near being an expert. But it doesn’t matter, he said.
“At the end of the day, I don’t need to know all the details about "League of Legends,'” Millman said. “We needed to find people who collectively bring a level of expertise to the coverage. And we did.”