NBC Sports Group has officially jumped into the esports arena and the broadcast giant now follows Turner into the competitive gaming space. While TBS and its ELeague has focused on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Street Fighter V and Injustice 2, NBC is targeting Psyonix’s hit game Rocket League and is opening up competitive gaming to the masses this summer with the 2v2 Rocket League Tournament, which has a $100,000 prize pool.
Mike Prindiville, senior manager of NBC Sports Ventures, told AListDaily that the company has spent the past two years studying the esports landscape.
“We’re not just jumping in here—we’ve taken the time to get to know all of the games, teams and players,” Prindiville said. “We’re being thoughtful about our approach with NBC Sports and throughout NBC Universal. There’s a real groundswell of interest in esports across Telemundo, Syfy and our other connected assets.”
This interest has been percolating as esports titles like League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 have commandeered global audiences. Even sports leagues like FIFA, the NFL and the NBA have officially entered this burgeoning business.
“Ultimately, when you look at Rocket League in the last two years, it’s skyrocketed from relative obscurity to huge exposure and ratings with over 32 million players,” Prindiville said. “We look at that game as a perfect entry point for NBC Sports because of our DNA with Premier League, Formula One and IndyCar and the opportunity to work with Psyonix on 2v2.”
The international tournament will begin on the FaceIt platform with regional online qualifiers, which will be divided into competitions for all eight NBC Sports Regional Networks (RSN), as well as additional American and European open qualifying regions. The tournament’s structure will utilize NBC Sports Regional Networks, Telemundo Deportes and NBCU International to run the regional qualifiers across the US and in Europe, which will be played on the FaceIt platform beginning on July 22.
The Regional Finals will be played at NBC Sports Regional Networks studios on the weekends of August 5-6 and August 12-13, and will be livestreamed on the NBC Sports app and Telemundo En Vivo app, as well as other social media platforms. Participating NBC Sports Regional Networks will televise the final hour of coverage from each of the Regional Finals.
The Grand Finals will feature 16 total teams competing on August 26-27 for the inaugural title and the $100,000 prize pool, which will be televised live in the US on NBCSN. The Grand Finals will also be broadcast on Syfy in the UK, Germany, Australia and multiple countries across Latin America, in addition to streaming outlets like FaceIt and RocketLeague.com.
Prindiville flew to Los Angeles to take in the Rocket League Season 3 World Championship at the Wiltern Theater on June 4. “I’ve been to some of the biggest soccer stadiums in the world, and atmosphere is such a key part to experiencing traditional sport,” Prindiville said. “The excitement at the Wiltern Theater mimicked a European soccer stadium, especially with the Europe vs. USA dynamic of the competition and fans chanting ‘USA!’”
NBC will open Rocket League to everyone with this new tournament. “We want everybody remotely interested in this game to have a chance, and we want to honor that Rocky-type storyline so that even a non-pro can get involved and make their way to the Finals,” Prindiville said. “We’re big about grass roots and community.”
On that same trip to LA, Prindiville met with Riot Games and took in some League of Legends competition. However, it remains to be seen whether NBC Sports will pursue televised tournaments of the popular game. For now, its focus is on Rocket League. “As our main entry point, we wanted a game that was 1v1 or 2v2 and was really relatable,” Prindiville said. “We think there’s great crossover from traditional sports to esports with this concept of flying cars playing soccer.”
What NBC Sports brings to the table, beyond a global broadcast audience, is a pedigree for storytelling. Prindiville said publishers and event organizers that he spoke with feel like there’s an opportunity for improved or bigger storytelling in esports. “That’s part of our DNA with the Olympics, Premier League and NBC Sunday Night Football,” Prindiville said. “That’s an important contribution we think we can provide to esports on top of the live broadcast component.”
It’s that live broadcast component that is attracting new advertisers to esports, thanks to the NBC Sports brand.
“We’re a media company and we’re looking to bring in those sponsors, whether endemic or non-endemic, through linear and digital,” Prindiville said. “Linear is more of a complement for esports, since the vast majority of this tournament content is going to live on digital. While a lot of endemics are looking to get on linear, a lot of non-endemics are interested in digital first and foremost. But linear adds more content and more potential impressions for the viewer.”
NBC Sports realizes esports is a digital-first offering, and Prindiville sees esports as a way for the company to build out an improved digital business and stream across its digital platforms, as well as traditional platforms where gamers are currently. “Digital is incredibly important for us and the future of sports,” Prindiville said.
Over the two years of esports research, Prindiville and his team have paid close attention to Turner Broadcasting and ELeague. He was especially impressed with how quickly ELeague competition has evolved.
“They listened to the esports audience and reacted quickly with changes,” Prindiville said. “It’s important to engage with and be involved with the community, and we’ll take a similar approach. Right now, our focus is on season one and getting that done right.”
While CS:GO and Overwatch are popular games for esports fans, Prindiville likes Rocket League because it translates well to broadcast TV.
“We think this game can do well on linear,” Prindiville said. “We’re not talking ratings, but on TV people immediately know what’s going on, and it’s something we feel traditional sports fans will find interesting to watch.”