ESPN’s recently launched ESPN+ streaming service is adding e-sports to its repertoire. The company has announced that it will broadcast live coverage of several League of Legends competitions this summer, beginning on June 16th with the 2018 North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split (NA LCS). After that comes the NA LCS Summer Finals in September September and then the League of Legends World Championship in the fall.
The deal between ESPN and Riot Games is non-exclusive, so you’ll still be able to stream those same competitions for the hugely popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) title on Twitch. For free. But ESPN is likely hoping that covering e-sports will help bring in more subscribers for the still-new $4.99/month ESPN+ service. ESPN+ includes thousands of hours of live events from various sports leagues throughout the year, original programming, and an ad-free experience when using the ESPN website and app. Subcribers aren’t constantly saddled with pre- or post-roll video ads.
Riot Games says that the 2017 LoL World Championship drew “80 million unique viewers tuning in for a single match.” Fans of the game watched over 1.2 billion hours of video during the event.
Riot and BAMTech, the division of Disney that built the technology behind ESPN+, have been business partners since 2016 when the two companies signed a $300 million deal to have BAMTech stream League of Legends competitions. Back in November, Riot announced changes to its North America competition slate that resulted in the creation of permanent teams; several of them are backed or owned by big-league sports teams including the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.