ESPN.com to cover e-sports with same 'rigor' as it does the big leagues

ESPN has announced plans to aggressively cover the sport of playing video games, beginning on its website and apps.

E-sports competitions have surged into a $500-million global industry over the last few years, as millions of people watch online or turn up at arenas to see players go at it with game console controllers or computer keyboards.

On Thursday, ESPN.com rolled out a section devoted to articles and videos about professional leagues and tournaments for video games such as “League of Legends” and “Counter-Strike.”

Given the passionate fandom, the organization and the drama around e-sports, “the storyline was so compelling that we decided there was no reason we shouldn’t be doing this on a daily basis with the same rigor we cover the National League Football or other sports,” said Chad Millman, editor-in-chief of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

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Initial hires include Darin Kwilinski, formerly managing editor at the Sherman Oaks-based e-sports media company Azubu; Rod Breslau, previously senior editor at TheScore e-sports news website; and Tyler Erzberger, also from TheScore.

The writers will make regular appearances on shows such as ESPN’s flagship “SportsCenter” as early as this weekend when the latest “League of Legends” season powers up in Los Angeles.

Although ESPN’s entrance into the space will raise e-sports’ profile, it could dent smaller journalism organizations such as TheScore and The Daily Dot that have become influential sources of news and analysis for fans.

ESPN’s e-sports push was cemented after its magazine dedicated an entire issue on video games last summer and received positive feedback; a feature from that issue on a top player drew 1.1 million pageviews on ESPN.com. The network also carried some live broadcasts online and aired a college video game competition on ESPN 2.

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Millman is counting on good stories to attract a wide audience. ESPN is staying “open minded” about what comes next, with possibilities like more e-sports TV broadcasts or even airing e-sports shows on popular gaming video apps such as Twitch.

“Right now, we think the best opportunity is online, and that’s why we’re implanting ourselves in this space,” Millman said.

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