The world of eSports continues to attract major media companies and real sports businesses. This time the biggest eSports player in the market, League of Legends operator Riot Games, is closing in on a two-year deal to sell streaming rights to Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM). The deal, which could be worth $200 million, was first reported by Sports Business Daily. If the deal goes through, League of Legends matches would shift their broadcasts from Twitch, YouTube and Riot's website to an app developed by MLBAM's BAMTech.
Major League Baseball holds a majority stake in the streaming entity whose technology has some proven chops with clients that include HBO, Sony and Turner Sports. As anyone who's watched Game of Thrones or Westworld on HBO Go can tell you, the reliability and quality of HBO's streams has been impressive. With tens of millions of viewers tuning into eSports matches, any eSports stream needs to be able to handle high loads without dropping or stuttering wildly.
As Jeff Marks, whose firm Premier Ventures advises on sports deals, pointed out to the Los Angeles Times, MLB itself could learn a lot about how to boost its own audience "by looking at data on how young gamers consume online content, and Riot Games could gain legitimacy with advertisers that baseball has worked with for decades." That could prove to be very valuable considering that Newzoo has noted some erosion to traditional sports viewership at the hand of eSports.
The deal could be a win-win as it would allow Riot to have more control than in typical broadcast deals as well. "Considering Riot's aggressive strategy of vertical integration to better the user experience - they built their own Internet backbone to improve latency - having their own channel, and thereby reducing their reliance on Twitch, is a solid decision," said SuperData's Joost van Dreunen.
Details of the broadcast arrangement are still unknown - will users need to purchase a subscription to watch matches or will there be a fee-based option with exclusive content or in-game benefits? How Riot handles its business model for broadcasts and how advertising is integrated will be crucial to the eSports ecosystem.