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Volume 26 No. 3
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Esports Personalities Are Creating Their Own Brands

Martinez-Rea said pro gamers are creating their own following through their platforms and accessibility

When it comes to creating stars in esports, many personalities, like Twitch streamer Ninja, are creating their own brands, and content creators are simply “catching up to it,” said ESL North America CEO & Managing Dir Yvette Martinez-Rea on the closing panel of Day 1 of the Lagardere Sports esports Rising conference in Hollywood. Martinez-Rea: “They’re creating their own following through their platforms and accessibility, their personality. And we’re giving them platforms sometimes to do that.” Ninja has nearly 18 million subscribers on YouTube, so Martinez-Rea said it might be hard to accelerate growth for a player with such a high ceiling, but “we can take some of the rough edges off of it and package it differently for different audiences.” She added, “The numbers speak for themselves. It’s tremendous what they can do with a webcam.” Immortals Exec Chair Peter Levin said he thinks gamers can be taken to a higher level through shoulder programming or other original content, using the UFC as an example. “The year UFC aired the Ultimate Fighter on Spike, the sport was legal in two states,” Levin said. “They took a sport that was largely considered cock fighting ... and converted a handful of these athletes into household names.” 

THIS IS ESPORTS? One of the livelier discussions of the day was on ESPN and whether it would ever devote time to coverage of esports on a program like “SportsCenter.” NBC Sports Ventures and Comcast Ventures Senior VP Rob Simmelkjaer, who worked at ESPN from ’07-11, was asked what the path would be for an esports competition to be featured in a wrap-up segment on ESPN’s flagship highlight program. Simmelkjaer said it would be interesting to see the reaction from traditional sports fans -- “probably not the most positive” -- if ESPN led “SportsCenter” with an esports highlight wrap. But Simmelkjaer also said he thinks some form of wrap-up segment on esports for “SportsCenter” is “coming within the next year.” Levin said what ESPN is doing with ESPN+ and original programming around esports is “far more interesting” than a highlight package on “SportsCenter.” Levin: “To fit a square peg into a round hole into a format that’s been digested by generations of consumers, that has lost millions of subscribers in the last several years ... it’s clever what they’re doing with their OTT play.” Turner Sports Chief Content Officer & Exec VP Craig Barry said there would be an “obtuse reaction” from the esports world with a nightly highlight package on “SportsCenter.” Levin said of a possible reaction from the esports world, “I don’t think they’d be offended, because they wouldn’t know. It would be the shot heard by no one.”