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EsportsThe BBC’s Latest Foray Into Esports is Noble, But Doomed | Kotaku UK
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The BBC’s Latest Foray Into Esports is Noble, But Doomed | Kotaku UK

By Alistair Jones on at

Mainstream television’s relationship with esports is a complicated one.For the most part traditional sports remain dominant but, even before the Covid crisis shut everything down for months, the online viewership figures for various games have proven impossible to ignore.It’s commonplace now to see esports tournaments broadcast on the secondary and tertiary channels of major networks, like Sky Sports 2 or ESPN 3.The BBC has also made efforts to expand into the world of esports, and this week is taking its next major step: hosting streams of two local League of Legends competitions – the UK League of Legends Championship (UKLC) and the Northern League of Legends Championship (NLC) via BBC Sport.

As a long-term League of Legends player and fan, it didn’t take long to settle into some familiar grooves.The gameplay might not have been quite on-par with the top tier, but it’s not exactly poor either.

At this level almost all of the tactical complexity carries over from the pro scene, and these players are all likely in the top one or two percent of the game’s community.There was the occasional slip-up in production but the commentary was pretty good, and it’s not like these leagues have access to the millions that Riot can pour into its own first-party broadcasts.

As I watched, however, it struck me that I didn’t really have a good reason to pay attention to these shows.At the same time as I was catching up on the UKLC I could have been watching Faker, one of the game’s all-time greats, playing live in Korea’s LCK.

The problem is that this might have been broadcast on the BBC, but it wasn’t a BBC production (unlike the beginner-friendly broadcast of Worlds 2015 ).I remain curious about how a mainstream broadcaster can tackle the jargon and complexity of a competitive scene like this, and whether it even can.

The issue is that there’s no hook for those outside the community.Think of it like the UK’s football hierarchy.Europe’s top competition, the LEC, is like the Premier League: the most money, the best players, the biggest crowds.Beneath that sits the NLC, the equivalent of the Championship, which isn’t as moneyed or slick but features a high standard of play and the chance to spot talent that may soon be in the Premiership.

Below that is the UKLC, which for the purposes of this analogy is League One.League One might not offer the best coverage or the best football, but it thrives on something else: local pride.

In traditional sports the teams are inextricable from places, whether it’s Wycombe Wanderers or a village cricket club.The Premier League will always dominate the headlines, but there are plenty of fans who follow the stories and communities that have built up around their local ground.

Such communities don’t exist in esports.Partly that’s due to their relative youth but, really, it’s because esports are not local in the manner of traditional sports.There are exceptions: the Overwatch League clearly identified this as a big issue, and has tried to link its teams to big cities with mixed success.Some esports teams do base their identity on a specific location.But for the most part, esports organisations are barely tied to countries, let alone towns or cities.

The NLC is made up of an interesting mix of teams.Some are academy teams representing brands that compete in the LEC, with logos you recognise and players with access to a fast-track to the top.

Elsewhere there are a couple of other recognisable names in there; teams from Scandinavia better known for their Dota 2 or CS:GO squads; UK brands like MnM or Barrage; Munster Rugby Club’s esports division.By the time you reach the UKLC, though, you’re watching either the academies of those same teams or lower-tier organisations who often lack any sense of local identity whatsoever.As a viewer, it’s difficult to invest.

I don’t want to be too down on the BBC’s efforts.

This is a noble attempt to give esports access to its mainstream audience, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

But I would question who exactly this approach is supposed to serve.If you already live and breathe League of Legends esports, you could already watch these competitions for free (watching on iPlayer requires a TV license) on a major streaming platform, rather than nestled away in the BBC Sport app.And if you’re not already interested, there’s no hook here that might attract you in from the major leagues, where the narratives are more established, the gameplay is better, and the overall product more polished.

The real issue here is not the BBC, nor the quality of play.

What these broadcasts bring home is Riot’s monopoly over LoL esports.The ecosystem is already so advanced, and so embedded in another platform more keenly attuned to its audience.If Riot isn’t prepared to loosen that grip – something there’s no reason for it to do – then mainstream television will only ever be able to show the off-cuts, with predictable results.Tags: .