When it comes to sports fandom, there are two very different worlds that rarely overlap: there’s the one where the Super Bowl and the World Cup and other “real” sports take place and draw fanatical interest — and then there’s the one where the sport in question is League of Legends or Counter-Strike, and fans watch their heroes play in real-time on the streaming service Twitch (now owned by Amazon).
Members of the former have plenty of apps from ESPN and the like for them to use when catching up on their mobile device, and now residents of the latter have their own app as well, courtesy of a Canadian upstart called theScore.
The app, which is just called eSports, launched on Wednesday for Android (an iOS version is coming soon, the company says) and offers more or less the same kind of mobile, real-time news coverage of the e-sports world that regular sports fans get from ESPN and other apps. TheScore has a team of about 15 writers and editors who are responsible for producing content, mostly based in Toronto.
E-sports is big business
It may once have been a sort of underground phenomenon, but now players of e-sports can make millions in endorsements, and e-sport matches have sold out venues like the Staples Center in Los Angeles. According to one analytics firm, about 71 million people watched 2.4 billion hours of e-sports in 2013, up from 1.3 billion a year earlier, and by 2018 that figure is expected to hit 6.6 billion. Some players have actually given up tournaments and now get paid just to play online.
With that kind of growth, theScore COO Benjamin Levy said the e-sports app was a natural fit for the Toronto-based company, which makes a traditional mobile sports app also called theScore, as well as one that is focused specifically on the soccer market called theScoreFC:
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”The eSports app was really a natural evolution for us. Obviously, we saw what’s been going on over the past year and a half or so — an explosion of interest in e-sports, really on a global basis, from China and Korea to people following League of Legends in the U.S. It really makes you sit up and take notice when they’re filling the Staples Center for these kinds of events.”[/blockquote]
Digital is worldwide
Sports have been in the Levy family for three generations now: Benjamin’s grandfather started a cable company in Ontario in the 1950s and was one of the first to launch a sports ticker on television called Sportscope. Over the years, that became a channel called Headline Sports, which in turn became theScore. The family sold the TV assets of the company to Rogers Communications in 2012, but spun out the digital assets as a separate company called Score Media, which is publicly traded.
Levy says that it became obvious even a few years ago that theScore would only ever be a Canadian television story — but the potential for the web and digital was much larger. So the company focused on the web and on its apps, and the COO says it now has more than 10 million monthly active users, with more than 60 percent of them coming from the U.S. and about 15 percent from the rest of the world other than Canada.
The Score COO said the approach with the eSports app is to look at online gaming in more or less the same way that the company looks at traditional sports: as a market with devoted fans, who want the same kind of real-time coverage and analysis and commentary that anyone else wants when they are following soccer, or Major League Baseball. Watching some of his own staff who are fans of e-sports brought this home, Levy said:
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”It was really obvious how passionate they are as fans, just like fans of golf or baseball or tennis. So it occurred to us, maybe there was an opportunity for us to cover it the same way we cover these other professional mainstream sports — audiences want real-time stats, they want real-time news, they want someone to put it together in a thoughtful way that they can read on their mobile devices. So that’s what we did.”[/blockquote]