ESPN is ending its daily coverage of the $1 billion esports industry despite recognizing the audience growth opportunity the segment presents. News of the vertical shuttering comes less than a week after the network announced its elimination of 500 jobs and an executive shake up. The Walt Disney Company — ESPN’s parent company — reports its most recent quarterly earnings today.
The company launched an esports-specific vertical in 2016, supplementing that with broadcasting events like the Overwatch League Playoffs and the 2020 League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split Playoffs. It will still look to broadcast esports, but editorial coverage will only be done occasionally.
“We have made the difficult decision to cease operations for our dedicated daily esports editorial and content,” an ESPN spokesperson told The Esports Observer. “We recognize esports as an opportunity to expand our audience, and we’ll continue to do so through coverage from the broader team for major events, breaking news and coverage.”
Last Thursday, ESPN announced that it was eliminating approximately 500 jobs or 10% of its current work force to “weather the COVID storm,” according to Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s chairman. Of the 500, 300 positions would be laid off with the other 200 coming from a decision to not fill any positions that remained vacant.
The esports sector is seeing explosive growth and loses a major media company covering it. ESPN is also an esports streaming partner. The company aired “League of Legends” coverage on ESPN2 and has upcoming rights for “NBA2K” and other events.
In the last year, only 25 of the 288 ESPN events on Twitch, an Amazon.com AMZN, generated over 1,000 viewers. ESPN’s coverage of the Rocket League Invitational saw 15,000 viewers in the summer.
The only positive side to this is that Smaller esports companies could benefit from one less competitor for streaming deals and coverage. For example, Huya could use this opportunity to push forward into the United States by landing some streaming deals.