GameSpot's The Lobby -- Why does ESPN care about esports?League of Legends expert Travis Gafford joins us on The Lobby to talk about what ESPN's entry into the world of esports coverage means for the world of competitive gaming.
[MUSIC] Jarvis you're here to talk about the e-sports. It's an up and coming thing. [LAUGH] This is, it's great to hear because we wanted to talk about ESPN and e-sports and everything. And I reached out to ESPN and we're gonna get them on, I think maybe later, and we can talk to some of those folks. I reached out to Rod, of course, he used to work here at Game Spot as well. So we're gonna get those guys in later in the week, but you were just so happened to be in town today. Yeah this is great. I woke up and I had a DM from you asking if I could Skype in, and I said well why would i do that when I'm right around the corner, [LAUGH] I could just come in and sit down, so. Perfect. So you were just fresh back in from North America and [UNKNOWN] right? Yes, yes exactly, so down in LA, for those of you that don't know I do work at GameStop, but sometimes Little hidden away because it just do the Eastport stuff, and I'm down in Los Angeles too. So I'm never around the office here to show up in any of the back prints and new features, so. Yeah. Once in a blue moon. But yeah. NA LCS just kicked off this weekend, and that was really exciting. And another big exciting thing that's happening at least when it comes to folks like us. We're not within. The sort of e-sports community, but we're very much interested in what's going on. Is what's happening with ESPN. It's interesting, a couple weeks ago, Bobby Kotick was saying that when they bought MLG, they said, this is part of our future plans to be the ESPN of e-sports. But it turns out, ESPN wants to also be the ESPN of e-sports. They've set up this new section on their site, they've been dabbling in e-sports before, they of course had the international Awhile ago as well. From you, from somebody who's been covering e-sports, covering League of Legends for so long, what does this say to you that ESPN is getting involved? It's really interesting. I think for a long time, especially within the e-sports community, there was a lot of desire for validation, because I think that the general sentiment among the e-sports community and fans and people working in it is that e-sports are on par with traditional sports, physical athletic sports. And anytime that ends up happening or anytime that conversation starts up, sports fans and And even prominent figures at ESPN and other places have said. [LAUGH] This is a joke. You know, they just talked about it as a nerd thing and whatever. So I do think that there is a great deal of validation for seeing them come in. And I imagine it's only a sign of things to come as, We start to see kind of this interesting Venn diagram blur of you know game sites like Gamespot that cover E-sports and then you know a few sports sites like ESPN covering E-sports as well. Yeah so I guess this wind change has been happening for Years, but even in terms of months. I remember there was a story in [UNKNOWN] a couple of months ago when ESPN aired, I think it was a Hearthstone tournament or something on ESPN2. It was Heroes of the Dorm. The Heroes of the Dorm [UNKNOWN] legion tournament. And one of the [UNKNOWN] had some really great Tweets about it as the company at ESPN showing nerds playing video games, says a self confessed nerd who plays signage football. My favorite one is can we all just take a moment to appreciate that the World of WarCraft Championship is on ESPN 2. Do you think this is like a big statement then? Is it more representative of people becoming Okay with e-sports more or did they stem looking for an in on something that's quite profitable? I mean it's a little bit of both, right. I don't think a company's gonna be interested in covering something that no one's really interested in. But I do think that it also sort of shows that people that are making those kinds of tweets Quite frankly their opinion is relevant whenever it comes to this discussion, because what is actually happening is you're seeing more and more. I mean, BBC broadcast League of Legends World Championships a couple of months ago. ESPN is getting in, the sports sites, sports companies, more and more sponsors are coming in. All of those people are validating Esports as a sport and so it doesn't really matter at the end of the day if a sports fan who is only interested in watching MLB isn't interested in esports or doesn't feel like it's a sport because Everybody else is deciding that it is. All the people that are actually covering this stuff, all the people that are making business deals around it, do think that. So I do think And all the people who watch it. Right, exactly. I mean, yeah, that's the thing. I mean that the viewership is there and it's only growing. Fans are more passionate, fans are getting more interested in the stuff. More and more stuff, eSports are coming along, CS GO. Getting bigger and bigger every year. Lee continues to be juggernaut like it's just in my opinion, the future. And we're only gonna see this stuff. It's gonna be very funny to look back on any of this footage [LAUGH] [CROSSTALK] like 20, 30, 40, years down the road whenever, it's just commonly accepted. Okay, let me, if you let me digress and be self-indulgent for just a little second. Transport maybe just a couple of years ago further into the future. I talked to Peter about this movement. What we're seeing is the mass media getting into something like [UNKNOWN] which for a long time was just sort of bubbling right? We kinda feel the same way about video games. When we were growing up it Specialist magazines, specialist price. There were some mainstream television dabbling into it, but for the most part it was sort of off temperature and it never really clicked, right? We don't have a long series of television shows that It sort of lasted t he test of time when it comes to games. Looking ahead at something like fighters time, if someone had use for it, which is this super small passionate community, focused community i'll say uuu. Do you think this is the start of the mainstream press You know in the way we see main stream culture really latch on to games in the past years at trying sorta finally grab the gaming audience. You see this happening at side of east war. I think it'll be easier for east wars content to be like easily consumable and like discover it. The one that I really wonder about if, ESPN, is the right brand for who are already interested in these sports. Because they are aligned with things like football and baseball. And so while I don't that ESPN will fail what they're attempting, I think what they're going to do is provide a foundation that other people will then use as an example to bolster up maybe a more community focused e-sport thing. I'm really on the outside looking in, but For me so many people who consume these sports content, they're, I hate that I just said consume content. [LAUGH] People who said that stuff, they- Don't worry we'll edit that out later. Yeah. They do it on Twitch, the do it on YouTube, they're engaging with this stuff the way that they have been and I don't know if they're gonna then flock to ESPN. But again like you were saying, I think it's a good example of Sort of the economy of these sports being validated by these bigger players, that I think will then provide a solid foundation. It's still hard to tell when the balance is gonna tip in terms of mainstream people wanting this, because I think there are even a lot of people our age And I don't know who the outlier, and who's the exception to this is, but not all of us like e-sports, right? But the younger generation they really do. So I think this might actually provide a stronger long-term gain for things rather than the short term. So I can see it making it more mainstream and more popular. I think ESPN's maybe gonna have a rough time. It's an interesting question, isn't it? Because if there is this big sort of clannism around esports, and there sort of well needed to be, because I remember being super into Counter-Strike, and sort of being vaguely interested in watching competitive games, and when it tried to break through, it did, and it kind of petered out again, the community in these esports games, from my outside perspective They seem to understand that if they want this stuff to really work, they need to be passionate, and they need to give a ****. So when you see something on ESPN getting involved, obviously, like you're saying, it's a really good marker. It's a great way of saying, okay, we've been legitimized in this way. But do you think the EU sports community cares about ESPN's coverage Like [UNKNOWN] do they care enough to watch it? Because presumably if they're happy that it exists, if it crashes and burns, that's obviously not a very good commentary on esports, either. Yeah, I think the solution to that is to hire people who people care about and who already have [UNKNOWN], and that seems to be what they're doing. Right. For disclosure at least cuz of my friends, but And people like Feon, who is very prolific writer within the League of Legends community, and covers all the esport side of that stuff. It got picked up by them, and he's going to be putting features up, and already has several times. And they've reached out to, the moment that, this is actually kind of an interesting story. The moment ESPN went live with the site and the announcement went out, they only had I think it was League, Dota, and Hearthstone up on the top ten. Yes, I remember. And the CS Go community kind of went crazy about it, but the Smash community, because the ESPN announcement went up on the boards for all these different communities and everybody's reaction was like, yeah, but they're not covering our game, or they're only gonna cover And they did a really good job of immediately being like, actually here is a really cool write up on this match tournament that's happening this weekend. They posted that last week or apparently they have CSCO contact going up today. So I think they're doing a good job of being really proactive in finding people that Are already creating content within these communities and really helping to spotlight them. I think the other thing, and not to spin off into too much of a larger discussion, but- Go for it. I think that what's interesting to wonder is what are ESPN's long-term plan in the sports industry. Right. Because Is it just like, we're gonna do these writeups, or are they looking to do more stuff like they did with the Heroes of the Dorm tournament where they're gonna broadcast it on ESPN2? Are they looking to, we're seeing a lot of these companies Move into streaming traditional sports on their site and doing stuff like that. Are they going to become a Twitch competitor whenever it comes to Rice A lot of these tournaments? So, and if that's the case and ESPN starts broadcasting a League of Legends tournament or a Hearthstone tournament or whatever, and they're also having coverage on their site with Really prolific folks from that community. I keep using prolific, it's my new favorite word. You know then we're going to start to see I think that brand become much more accepted and well known within the industry. Yeah. I guess the last question is sort of a personal one that I wanna ask you. I touched on it a bit earlier. You were asked NA LCS last week. You've been covering this stuff for years and years and years. We were talking before the show. You were saying about how it used to be you'd turn up to these events, and maybe one other YouTuber, and now you turn up on Sportscenter on ESPN, and everyone is there. Do you think this has been a long time coming, or are you shocked in 2016 that ESPN has done this? Or does it now feel right? I think now's a good time. I think that the growth has been very significant over the past years for this. But Yeah, it definitely would have been a very strange thing for me to see at the start of LCS three or so years ago. And now with all the changes I've been seeing, Rick Fox, former NBA Laker champion is on the team and [UNKNOWN] I saw the ring. Is that why you had the ring on? There was a ring. I don't wanna say where I got it, but yes. That was the first and probably the only time I'll have something worth $400,000 on my finger. $400,000. That was what I was saying. So yeah, that stuff was just happening and especially in 2015 we saw more and more of this. And so It definitely, it feels like, that this is just the next step. Yeah, Travis Connor, thank you so much for coming in. Great to have you in the lobby finally. Thank you. It's been good to be here and do some content with you. Yeah. Now I'm going to just get up and exit this room. [LAUGH] Where not doing anything, [INAUDIBLE] Trailer, you just take your [INAUDIBLE] off and hopefully there's a short guy with less hair than you standing there that's going to come in and talk about a different video Okay, I will look for him Thanks so much appreciate it.