When it comes to esports and gaming, we’re almost exclusively talking on the global level. Between the game titles that esports teams play and the platforms that broadcast their matches, the audiences are tuning in from around the world.
Over the past few years, TV networks like ESPN and ABC have tested bringing these industries -- particularly esports -- onto national TV. Now, they will go even deeper by entering the local level through TEGNA in Texas.
Beasley Media Group’s Overwatch League team, the Houston Outlaws, and rival Texas-based team rival Texas-based team Dallas Fuel -- owned by Envy Gaming, a large esports/gaming organization -- came together in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown for a multi-series competitive event (totaling around 7 hours of programming) and docuseries (totaling 3 hour-long episodes) called “The Lone Star Showdown,” on Mondays and Saturdays, respectively, for the month of May.
The two teams went head to head in weekly competitions on Overwatch through YouTube, because of the League’s exclusivity deal with the video platform, followed by a docuseries event showcasing the lives of the players around the competitions broadcast on local broadcast conglomerate TEGNA's Texas 12 TV stations, including Dallas and Houston, ranked the fifth- and eighth-largest DMAs, respectively.
According to the Outlaws and TEGNA, the event was “a resounding success” -- the Outlaws managed to bring in solidified esports sponsors like Samsung and Zenni, while also securing new local Texas sponsors on the marketing side like supermarket chain H-E-B.
Ed Busby, senior vice president of strategy at TEGNA, told me that the event “had a great impact on TEGNA’s digital footprint, and delivered a good audience on local TV stations,” with the Facebook live streams of the content bringing increasing by 150% from the start to the end of the tournament, and also outperforming the Dallas station’s Facebook Livestream in average live stream views between March-May.
The Outlaws reported that the local broadcasts delivered strong audiences, including young viewers in Houston and Dallas each week.
When I asked Ed what led TEGNA to look to esports as a potential opportunity, he said: “we arrived at this idea from two angles, first, from a cultural perspective, TEGNA is looking to innovate, combine efforts of our digital and linear teams, and attract new partnerships. Second, we look at the appetite in the market, where we’re able to surface new audience opportunities, and if we can get commercial revenue behind it, of course. On all accounts, this initiative with Beasley and Envy Gaming checked all the right boxes.”
This event was TEGNA's first foray into esports, but Busby is confident that it won’t be the last -- “we were so impressed with the quality of the content that these teams put together, and they really handled the entirety of its creation."
As you might guess, TEGNA isn’t exactly brimming with experts on esports, so it was important that we could lean on partners who would guide us in the right direction -- Beasley and Envy did just that.”
Lori Burgess, COO of Beasley Esports and one of the masterminds behind the month-long event, gave me a better picture of how it came together: “in the beginning of the year when we had just relocated with the Outlaws to Texas, we told TEGNA we should work on something down the line - COVID really brought that timeline up, and everything happened so quickly.
TEGNA kind of said to us "we’d really like to get some new, exciting programming on local TV right now," and then suddenly we just threw out these ideas and TEGNA was happy to have us guide the conversation.”
Apparently, the H-E-B reusable shopping bags branded by the Houston Outlaws sold out within the state and received high demand from viewers of the event that Lori and H-E-B are figuring out a potential merchandising partnership -- “people don’t realize that fans all over the world love the outlaws players,” Lori said, “if they can get their hands on more merch, they absolutely need to. And you see that with a lot of dedicated esports fanbases.”
What stands out to me about this coordinated event is its outcomes for TEGNA in particular: it garnered local viewership, while not record-breaking, high enough for TEGNA to consider it a success on the linear TV level, through docuseries programming only -- not counting the competitions themselves.
In theory, it could have built upon the recent appreciation for the Michael Jordan docuseries, The Last Dance, that premiered throughout the month prior to the Outlaws x TEGNA partnership.
In addition, the docuseries TEGNA broadcasts drove growth of new viewers to TEGNA’s digital properties -- the Outlaws promoted the docuseries to their 59k YouTube subscribers, 132k Twitter followers, and 109k+ Instagram followers, not including all the individual players’ followers, many of whom tuned in to see more of their favorite players’ personalities.
Per Ed Busby’s point about innovation at TEGNA, this opportunity helped evolve TEGNA’s brand to include a new, cutting-edge initiative, breathing new life into their audience base.