Steven R. June 6, 2019
ESPN is looking to expand its esports programming in a big way.
The Worldwide Leader in Sports is planning to launch its own series of esports events titled EXP. The move is a big step forward in ESPN's larger push into esports after years of performing test runs with simulcasts of established tournaments. The news was announced in a press release on ESPN Press Room.
“We are proud ESPN continues to be at the forefront of the growth and popularity of esports, collaborating with some of the top publishers in the industry including EA for our first-ever esports event series,” vice president of digital programming at ESPN John Lasker said. “EXP, short for experience, has been central to gaming history, and giving fans a great experience is central to our strategy at ESPN.”
So just what exactly is EXP? Basically, it's whatever ESPN wants it to be.
According to the press release, EXP will feature tournaments of both the professional and pro-am varieties. It will also include ESPN’s previously announced collegiate esports endeavors. The shows will run alongside ESPN-sponsored sporting events, including the 2019 ESPY Awards and X Games Minneapolis 2019, which will host Apex Legends competitions.
Viewers can watch live across digital streaming platforms including the ESPN app, while ESPN and ABC linear networks will have tape-delayed programming based on EXP.
ESPN has been slowly expanding its esports programming on its platforms in recent years. In 2014, ESPN collaborated with Major League Gaming on a Call of Duty: Ghosts tournament and broadcasted Dota 2’s The International 2014 on ESPN3. From there, the network began working alongside Blizzard to air Heroes of the Storm’s collegiate Heroes of the Dorm tournaments, and later aired matches from popular fighting game events Evo 2016 and Evo 2017.
Most recently, ESPN and ABC have featured Overwatch League matches across multiple platforms including the ESPN app, ESPN2, and even on network television through ABC.
Though the response from esports communities to ESPN’s coverage on the events has been generally positive, ESPN has not yet had a long-term partner in the industry. That void will likely now be filled by EXP.
EXP certainly has potential given ESPN’s proven ability to produce quality sports programming and its strong esports resume to this point. The worry is that the plan for EXP doesn’t necessarily seem to be focused on delivering a high quality esports product.
While Turner Broadcasting built up ELEAGUE as one of the top tournament organizers in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and hosted prominent events in Street Fighter V and Rocket League, EXP might initially be more of a novelty. Collegiate esports is still in its infancy and it’s easy to look at it as a cheaper alternative to more established professional competitions. Meanwhile, the pro-am angle can be interesting but it may be used to highlight video game hobbyism from traditional sports athletes at the expense of actual esports talent.
Regardless, more details on EXP will break ahead of the ESPYs, which are set to take place on July 10.