Turner Broadcasting and WME/IMG kick off the second season of ELeague featuring Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) on October 21 with 16 teams vying for the championship. After Virtus.pro defeated Fnatic at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta to complete the inaugural $1.4 million season, Turner decided to make some changes.
ESports fans consumed over 800 million gross minutes of video on TBS and Twitch during the inaugural season. Eleague also attracted more than 3.4 million new viewers to TBS during its 10-week season, with the audience composition consisting heavily of millennial viewers falling in the coveted male 18-34 demographic.
Christina Alejandre, general manager of ELeague and vice president of eSports at Turner Sports, told [a]listdaily that the new shortened season will help offset the fatigue from the inaugural season.
“By shortening the season, we make every match matter as we head into group stages,” Alejandre said. “We saw fatigue from the players, the teams and the community by the end of season 1. CS:GO is a crowded space and we want to make sure we program things strategically to maximize viewership and engagement.”
Last season ELeague had six weeks of group play, a last chance qualifier and quarterfinals, semifinals and a championship that stretched out over nine weeks. This year had preliminaries online and will have four weeks of group stages, which will occur twice weekly instead of four days a week, and then one week of playoffs.
“You can see fatigue in the community with so much CS:GO content out there and with players having to decide which tournament to participate in,” Alejandre said. “We have active relationships with other tournament organizers to try to make sure our schedules align, or if they overlap we give a heads-up. There’s a whole group of us discussing scheduling. We maintain an open and honest conversation that puts the least amount of strain as possible on the teams, players and community.”
In its second season, Eleague will continue to feature a limited commercial break format, including advertising, branding and content from official marketing partners Domino’s, Credit Karma, Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and HyperX.
Alejandre said Arby’s came into the ELeague relationship saying they didn’t want to be the guys who weren’t invited to the party and just showed up.
“We collaborated with them to ensure their integration into ELeague was natural and authentic to the space,” Alejandre said. “You can see that the commercials they ran on TV were all about CS:GO and ELeague. They nailed the tone, as well. One of the great things we saw was people tweeting about Arby’s commercials during ELeague. How often does that happen other than for Super Bowl commercials?”
Alejandre said Buffalo Wild Wings did a phenomenal job of showing the game in their restaurants during the first season—something that will continue into season 2. “People have been doing viewing parties in restaurants, which adds some validity to the space and the community,” Alejandre said. “They can go to a restaurant with beer and wings and watch ELeague. You never had that before. They’re also working with us on their creative, so eSports is treated like it should be.”
Alejandre said the key sponsors aren’t changing things up for season 2. “Their learnings were positive,” Alejandre said. “They saw a lot of good feedback on it. There wasn’t much to tweak or change.”
Turner partnered with Asus to sponsor the recent Overwatch Open they organized in conjunction with FaceIt. Alejandre said CS:GO and Overwatch complement each other. “It’s a different type of game and experience, but it still has the undertones of a first-person shooter,” Alejandre said. “We’re seeing a lot of crossover with casters, players and fans.”
Moving forward, there could be potential for more Overwatch. “We are constantly looking at ways to expand our eSports portfolio,” Alejandre said. “We’re trying to align ourselves with the right brands and partners. Overwatch provided a good opportunity to work with a different IP. They’re a new game, so maybe they’re not ready to do an entire season. We worked with FaceIt and we’re happy with the results.”
Alejandre said additional one-off open events will be decided on a case-by-case basis with new games and experiments. “We have to develop the right product for the right brand and the right game,” Alejandre said. “It depends on the situation and where the game is.”
To date, ELeague has focused on PC games, but Alejandre said it’s looking at console and mobile games. “We’re evaluating every platform,” Alejandre said. “We’re looking at everything.”