ESPN has announced that League of Legends is coming to ESPN+. The cable sports network made the announcement on Friday, saying that it has signed a multi-year agreement with LoL‘s developer Riot Games. ESPN+ will kick off its coverage on July 16 — just in time for the North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split. Following this, the summer finals will be held in September, followed by the world championships later this year,
ESPN’s agreement with Riot is not an exclusive one, so LoL fans will still be able to stream the matches on Twitch at no cost. ESPN is likely hoping this move will entice some people to sign up for its ESPN+ subscription service. The service costs $5 per month and gives users access to thousands of hours of live sporting events, original programming, and ad-free use of the ESPN’s site and mobile app.
Like many traditional media outlets, ESPN has struggled with adapting to how the internet has changed news and sports coverage. The cable news network has had to contend with dwindling subscription numbers, as many people opt to cut ties with cable altogether. In its prime, ESPN was one of America’s most popular outlets for coverage of sporting events, analysis, and player interviews. Now that virtually every professional athlete has their own Twitter profile, there is less need for traditional sporting coverage.
The decline of cable may play a large part in ESPN’s decision to move into the realm of esports coverage. A decade or so ago, the idea of ESPN covering video games in a major way was a laughable concept, but esports have grown into a multi-million dollar industry, with a fanbase just as devoted as those of any traditional sport. In fact, many esports teams, such as those in the Overwatch League and a handful of LoL teams, are owned by major sports teams.
ESPN’s deal with Riot is not the first time that ESPN has covered MOBA competitions. In 2015 and 2016, ESPN partnered with Blizzard Entertainment for coverage of the Heroes of the Dorm tournament, which focused on Blizzard’s own MOBA, Heroes of the Storm.