Esports and mainstream audiences have constituted the most epic “will they, won't they” relationship of the modern gaming era. Thousands of gamers have been following esports online and in-person, through various platforms and events for years. Yet the general public has not had an “easy in,” so to speak. It might seem silly, from a gamer's point of view, to say that Twitch/YouTube or events like the Call of Duty Championship have been “out of the way.” But for most of the general public, this is true. ESPN, Disney, and ABC airing Overwatch League is huge. Here finally is an easy to access option for those who might be even mildly interested in esports.
Along that line of thinking, let's take my dad as an example. He's been playing video games since before I was born. Yet I don't think he's ever watched a Let's Play video, let alone an esports tournament. There just isn't much appeal for him there. To be fair, he doesn't really watch many regular sports either. Still, he could easily access ESPN or ABC to watch a live esports event. I'd wager there's probably a TV in his break room at work that is constantly turned to one of those stations already. He, and many others across the country, are more likely to tune into regular TV stations for this type of thing, rather than Twitch or YouTube.
There's something about happening across something on TV that's easier than seeking it out. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say we've all watched a golf tournament once in our lives. Did we specifically go looking for golf tournament recordings on YouTube? Probably not. Did we run across it by chance on a television set of some kind? Most likely. I'm talking either your home TV flipping through the channels, maybe the one at work that is constantly tuned into ESPN, or perhaps even a display set at a department store. Most of us have watched golf.
Now take that some prevalence and apply it to Overwatch League. Do you think your dad, your mom, or your grandparents have seen an Overwatch League match? My guess is, there are some awesome relatives out there who have, but the majority have probably not. Put those same matches on ESPN, ABC, or Disney, and I guarantee that number will shoot up. While esports have been viewed by sets of eyeballs in the thousands/millions over the years, they haven't had much chance in the mainstream. The 2018 broadcast of the Overwatch League quarterfinals marks the first time an esports championship has graced ABC screens. It is also the first time an esports competition has been shown on ESPN during primetime hours. You don't need me to tell you, but this is huge.
There's one other thought in the back of my mind, regarding Overwatch League's jump to regular television. In that list of channels showcasing the Overwatch League is Disney. As we are all aware, Disney takes pride in its family-friendly nature. Gamers on the other hand, myself included, are not always known for their family-friendly nature. For esports to be a continued success on a channel like Disney, competitors are going to have to watch themselves. Just like any other televised sport, Overwatch League participants are held to very high standards and strict contracts. Even more than the baseball and football players of our time though, these esports characters will have to be even more careful. If a football player does something unruly, they pay the price (either literally or figuratively), but football as a sport doesn't suffer any trouble. In the advent of primetime esports, they might not enjoy this same solidity. If an Overwatch League player does something uncouth, they could jeopardize the mainstream attempt as a whole.
It will be interesting to see whether or not esports manages to grab hold of primetime viewers the same way regular sports do. My hope is that everyone, even those who don't play games, find some interest in it. But only time will tell.
Image Credit: PlanK-69