"ELeague," the 10-week eSports tournament debuting live on TBS next week, will be as focused on crafting a story as it will on covering the action in the featured "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" matches. Heroes, villains, underdogs and other protagonists in sports narratives will be important to the growth of competitive gaming. While "ELeague" hopes to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, the show will not overlook the dedicated eSports fans who have spent millions of hours watching "CS:GO" via digital streaming platforms.
While Craig Barry, executive vice president of production and chief content officer of Turner Sports, is more of an open-world kind of gamer (think "Fallout" or "The Witcher"), he quickly understood the appeal of competitive gaming. He uses the anecdote of watching the Winter Olympics one year, having never heard of curling. At first he was curious, but was soon a diehard fan after learning more about the sport, the athletes competing and the storylines that were playing out with each slide of the stone.
"Ultimately, these players need to be celebrated," Berry told International Business Times. "As important as the teams and the events are, the very fabric of eSports is the individual player. So, creating narratives, making sure you're connecting emotionally to fans." "ELeague" is focused on finding the LeBron James or Steph Curry of competitive gaming, but it won't forget the broader gaming community.
ESports are capturing more mainstream attention than ever, but there have been growing pains. The numerous tournaments and leagues make following all the developments of a team or game difficult, and with so much going on, it's easy to lose sight of the player, says Tobias Sherman, head of eSports for WME/IMG.
"We've failed, as an industry, to tell those deeper storylines because of the insatiable appetite for content of an eSports fan," Sherman said. "It's about the next event, the next event, the next event. One great thing about 'ELeague' is it gives us a long enough story for us to articulate and express the attitudes, different approaches and, overall, how much effort goes into each event."
He also points out the increasingly sophisticated training regiments, the introduction of sports psychologists and the sheer discipline necessary to become a top player.
In Turner's presentation to advertisers in New York this week, "ELeague" was highlighted among the new content premieres. In the highlight reel, there were stories of players overcoming their disbelief that playing games could be a lucrative career. There was also discussion of who may be the best "CS:GO" player.
Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer is widely considered to be the best "CS:GO" player, and he's aware of his status in the community. Known as "Olofm" in tournaments, he headlines a star-studded Fnatic game that's arguably the best in the world, at least when everyone's healthy. After a dominant 2016, Fnatic has seemed more human of late due to Kajbjer's wrist injury. He's had to sit out the last few matches with no time set for his return.
Even without Kajbjer, Fnatic's story makes for a compelling tale on "ELeague." The perceived favorites have to face a major tournament without their superstar, but could win it all with John "wenton" Eriksson as a substitute. The surging Na'Vi and Luminosity hope to keep the momentum with strong showings in "ELeague." Maybe viewers will root for the wonderfully named Ninjas in Pyjamas. There are also underdog stories as teams from around the world look to unseat "CS:GO" powerhouses like Fnatic.
“ELeauge” will debut Tuesday on Turner digital platforms and on the TBS network on Friday, May 27, at 10 p.m. ET.