Starting in 2016, you might stumble upon Counter-Strike: Global Offensive eSports matches while flipping through channels on your TV.
WME/IMG, a sports events and talent management company, and Turner Broadcasting, today announced they've struck a deal to form a new eSports league that will broadcast 20 live events on TBS in 2016. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive will be the featured game during the league's first season, and events will air on Friday nights on TBS for 10 consecutive weeks, twice per year.
This isn't the first time that eSports has been on TV. ESPN 2 recently aired Heroes of the Storm matches from the "Heroes of the Dorm" collegiate competition and DirecTV aired professional gaming competitions with the Championship Gaming Series as early as 2007. But bringing Counter-Strike eSports to TBS, which reaches over 90 million homes, is about as mainstream as it gets.
It's also interesting that WME/IMG and Turner are forming their own league instead of partnering with an established eSports organization like the ESL, and that they're doing it with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. With over one million concurrent viewers at big events, it's the biggest first-person shooter in eSports, but it's dwarfed by the audiences of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends, which can hit more than 10 million concurrent viewers.
The new league will have to draw in top players. The easiest way to get attention is with big prize pools (who can resist Dota 2's The International when people are playing for $6.5 million?), and while president of Turner Sports Lenny Daniels didn't give a specific number, he told Variety that players will compete for "meaningful prize money."
Earlier this year, WME/IMG acquired Global eSports Management, an eSports talent agency, so that's another way to start populating the league with players (though WME/IMG said that it will pick players regardless of whether they're clients).
If all goes well, WME/IMG and Turner will already have an established relationship with Valve, which also operates Dota 2, a MOBA with a much bigger audience, which could pave the way for even bigger events.
"It's my firm belief that there are many e-sports fans who don't know they're eSports fans yet," head of WME/IMG's eSports division told Variety. "Hell, I was one."