Sunday, April 12, 2015

Not Your Typical ESPN Fare

I'll come right out and admit it, I'm a college basketball junkie.

If there's a game on --men's or women's-- I'll likely be watching the game (or at least be familiar with it).*

I've also developed a minor addiction to Barclay's Premier League football (thanks to NBC Sports Network) and NCAA Women's softball, which means that I frequently scour the NCAA games on ESPN3 for something to have on in the background while I'm doing housework on the weekend.**

Well, there is a new thing available on ESPN3 that has gotten some writeups the past month or so but I've managed to avoid: Heroes of the Dorm, a college oriented Tourney for Heroes of the Storm.

ESPN likely looked at the number of people who a) pay money to watch streaming of BlizzCon online (or via DirecTV) and b) the exploding interest in eSports  (see their broadcasts of the League of Legends World Championships) and decided to throw some money Blizzard's way to get a HotS tourney going for broadcast.

Unlike a lot of the other ESPN sports, this one has the feel of a brand new broadcast searching for it's groove. If you want an apt sports broadcast comparison, I'd say it's similar to the FOX Sports One's Big East broadcasts, where the quality on the court is much better than the quality in the booth and in the TV trucks.***

Still, even though you have to have a cable/satellite subscription (or your ISP has an agreement to carry it) to watch Heroes of the Dorm, I'm sure that this is a win-win for both parties. ESPN locks up more of the eSports market, and Blizzard gets a partner that will (eventually) push a high level of professionalism and promotion into the eSports environment. For people like me who have little interest in eSports, ESPN provides legitimacy that you wouldn't have found elsewhere.

That legitimacy will inevitably cause a backlash from the "real sports" crowd. Even though these games are on ESPN3 or WatchESPN, I'm sure there will be gripes and jokes about how the nerdy "non-sports" masquerading as "real sports" are taking away from the "real sports" on television.

In a bizarro-world sense, it's the Jocks vs. the Geeks all over again, but this time for television viewing ratings.

Does the NCAA Basketball Tourney have to worry about ratings competition from eSports? Not likely, but what is likely is a resistance to an expansion of what exactly "sports" is. Never mind that Texas Hold 'em poker tournaments have been broadcast on ESPN for over a decade, that's a MAN'S game. Not these sissy eSports that nerdy guys in their basement play.

As for me, I'm not likely to watch the games --I'd rather play an MMO or MOBA myself rather than watch someone else play-- but I think this entire debate is silly. If you want to watch someone play eSports, more power to you. If ESPN wants to get in on the ground level with Blizzard for this HotS Tourney, great.**** There's plenty of bandwidth for everyone, so why bitch?

*Want to hear someone complain about how UCLA should never have been given an invite to the NCAA Tourney? I'm your guy. As soon as Baylor lost in the Second Round, I called my dad --an avid Xavier fan-- and told him that X is about to advance right through to the Sweet Sixteen. The one team in the Rounds of 64 and 32 that could beat X just got upset by Georgia State, and X would have an easy time of it until they'd run into the Arizona buzzsaw.

**It's kind of hard to play an MMO while doing housework; not to say that I haven't tried, just not had much success doing both that and getting cleaning done.

***For the record, I'm not a Big East fan. I'll watch the games --mainly to root against Xavier, I'm a Dayton fan-- but outside of when Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson are in the booth the other broadcast teams just aren't at the level of quality that you'd expect in an ESPN or even a CBS broadcast. Some of it is also due to FOX constantly insisting on being ultra "hip" and "edgy", when neither is necessary for broadcasting or reporting on games.

****I'm sure that ESPN will really amp up their League of Legends coverage this fall, based on their experience with both the Heroes of the Dorm tourney and last year's LoL World Championships. If nothing else, ESPN is a master at promotion.

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