Turner, WME/IMG creating new esports league to air on TBS

Esports are coming to TBS.

Turner Broadcasting System and agency WME/IMG plan to create a new competitive gaming league and televise the tournaments. Tens of millions of Americans are already watching others play video games on the Internet, but the fast-growing genre has yet to gain a foothold in traditional TV.

TBS will air the tournaments on Friday nights during two 10-week stretches next year. Play also will stream online starting on Tuesdays of each week in the lead-up to the Friday telecasts.

The two companies expect that their investment will allow them to recruit top existing teams to the league. Under the Friday schedule, teams will still be able to compete in other popular tournaments that typically take place on weekends.

The league will debut sometime next year, with dates for the tournaments yet to be determined.

Esports draw a young audience that advertisers are constantly seeking new ways to reach. Turner and WME/IMG executives are banking on attracting new fans to competitive gaming as much as getting current fans to tune in on TV.

“We’re exposing a whole new group of people,” said Lenny Daniels, the president of Turner Sports.

That potential audience may not already follow esports, but its demographics are similar to those who do – young and male. Daniels and his counterparts at WME/IMG believe that TBS’s regular audience contains many potential fans of competitive gaming.

“The great opportunity here is there are a ton of esports fans out there that don’t realize they’re esports fans yet,” said Tobias Sherman, the head of WME/IMG’s esports division.

TBS is televising the men’s college basketball national championship game in April for the first time under its partnership with CBS, an event that is viewed as a chance to reach a large number of potential esports fans. Turner can also promote the league through its wide-ranging stable of networks and websites.

“Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” from Valve Corporation will be the featured game during the first season. Turner Studios in Atlanta will serve as the league’s headquarters.

ESPN has aired existing esport tournaments this year, drawing small audiences. Turner and WME/IMG executives believe that by creating a new league from scratch and heavily marketing the characters and story lines, they can build up viewership.

For any form of entertainment, said WME/IMG chief content officer Mark Shapiro, the key ingredients for success are competition, personalities and a compelling format.

“Esports has all three in abundance,” said Shapiro, a former executive at ESPN and Dick Clark Productions.

Esports also, to this point, carry the appeal of a counter-culture event to their young fans. Turner and WME/IMG are now trying to bring it into the mainstream. Executives at the companies cite the success of ESPN’s X Games extreme sport competitions as evidence that a major investment and high-quality production values can grow the audience for an event that started out as counter-culture.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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