eSports in 2016

From the new league on TBS to Activision buying MLG, we take a look at professional gaming in 2016.

Jan. 12, 2016, 3:48 p.m. by Bryan Dawson

The notation of professional gaming is nothing new. South Korea has a pro gaming license you can obtain and regularly showcases top players and team on TV. While the US has had a few leagues come and go over the years, eSports has never really stuck. In fact, last year when Heroes of the Storm was showcased on ESPN2, the network’s own analysts were publicly dismissing the broadcast in the typical uninformed manner gamers have come to expect.

Look back at failed leagues such as the IGN Pro League, Championship Gaming Series, World Cyber Games and more, one has to wonder if the US will ever be ready for eSports. Well 2016 may just change the way people view professional gaming as several companies have been making moves to create some of the best viewing and competing opportunities we’ve seen in recent memory. Let’s take a look at what hopeful gamers have to look forward to this year.

Turner League on TBS

The biggest new league coming in 2016 is one brought to us by Turner Broadcasting and WME/IMG. Turner is well known in the TV realm with networks such as TNT and TBS, whole WME is one of the biggest talent agencies in the world. The new league will broadcast 20 live events over the course of 2016 with a focus on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Networks have tried to broadcast live events in the past to a less than stellar response. Some believe with traditional TV on the way out, networks shouldn’t attempt to bring professional gaming to TV. DirecTV failed with the Championship Gaming Series, ESPN failed with Heroes of the Dorm (showcasing Heroes of the Storm), so what’s different about this Turner attempt? Well, not much except that Turner has a lot of history bringing live events to the masses. Hopefully they bring in more than just Counter-Strike, as it’s unlikely the American public will tune in just to watch Global Offensive in the numbers needed to make it a success.

Capcom Pro Tour

Fighting games have always been some of the easiest games to follow for the average viewer. It’s a fairly basic 1v1 format (in most cases) in which the viewer can clearly see one character getting hit and losing health. It’s easier to watch than a game as complex as Heroes of the Storm, but yet it seems fighting games have a hard time breaking into the eSports scene. Granted, some of the issues reside in the fighting game community, but it’s not all on the people who play.

This may change in 2016 as Sony and Capcom have partnered up for the annual Capcom Pro Tour. The two companies first partnered in 2015 as a send off to Street Fighter 4, but with the upcoming release of Street Fighter 5 on the PlayStation 4 and PC, this year’s Capcom Pro Tour is likely to be one of the biggest yet. Just like the fighting game boom in 2009 when Street Fighter 4 hit home consoles, the release of Street Fighter 5 is likely to bring a surge of new blood into the fighting game scene. With Sony pushing the game and the Pro Tour, this could be the extra nudge fighting games need to make their way into the eSports realm.

Activision Blizzard and Major League Gaming

Just recently Activision Blizzard announced the acquisition of Major League Gaming (MLG). What was once the biggest and best eSports league in the US has since fallen from grace. The only planned events for 2016 before the acquisition were for Halo 5 and Counter-Strike. With the recent acquisition, there’s a good chance we’ll see Call of Duty and any number of Blizzard titles added to the MLG circuit.

This isn’t the first time Blizzard has been involved in an eSports acquisition. The company picked up what was left of the IGN Pro League shortly after News Corp sold IGN to Ziff Davis. Unfortunately, Blizzard only used the employees to create web content for its games, as nothing competitive came of the purchase.

When it comes to MLG, it was an acquisition by Blizzard’s parent company, Activision Blizzard, which will hopefully result in the brand going back to the forefront of eSports in the US. With ESL being the only significant player in the US eSports realm (and featuring mostly online events), there’s room for MLG to rise back to former glory, especially with Blizzard titles leading the way.

StarCraft isn’t as popular as it once, but Blizzard was very clear about multiple major events coming this year for Heroes of the Storm, as well as the release of Overwatch and the continued support of Hearthstone. Add in the Activision lineup of games and even if you just put Call of Duty front and center you’re going to get more acknowledgment from the general public than Turner will get from Counter-Strike. While the Counter-Strike series as a whole has sold over 50 million units, most of the recent Call of Duty titles have sold over 20 million units each for a combined estimate of nearly 150 million games sold.

Whatever comes of MLG or the Turner league, it’s safe to say eSports is looking up in 2016. For a look at some of the grass roots endeavors coming this year, check out our competitive outlook for Street Fighter 5.