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TBS will air eSports starting with regular Counter-Strike tournaments in 2016

Counter-Strike player aiming with an AWP weapon.
Previously relegated to the occasional confused (and often dismissive) segment, eSports are about to have their day in the sun on television.

Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and WME/IMG have partnered to create an eSports league that will broadcast 20 live events over the course of 2016, exclusively on TBS. The yet-to-be-named league coverage will feature high-level competitive gaming, wrapped up in all the bells and whistles you would expect from televised sports. The league and all of its live events will operate out of Turner Studios in Atlanta.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Valve’s extremely popular team-based first-person shooter, will be the featured game of the first season. The season comprises two full tournaments, each broadcast over a ten-week period that features a regular season, playoffs, and championship. Live games will be broadcast on Friday nights, which was apparently chosen in order to accommodate the athletes playing in other tournaments on the weekends.

Additional digital content, such as team profiles and more live games, will be released Tuesday through Friday during game weeks, up to and including live during the TBS broadcast Content will be accessible through Bleacher Report’s Team Stream app.

TBS is the first major television network to roll the dice on whether a mainstream American TV audience is prepared to accept video games alongside conventional sports. ESPN 2 broadcast a tournament of Blizzard’s MOBA Heroes of the Storm earlier this year, but received a very mixed reception. The numbers are encouraging, however. According to data from research firm NewZoo included in the league announcement, the current American eSports audience is around 32 million viewers, and is expected to grow to more than 50 million by 2017.

Fans are watching largely through established online players such as the Amazon-owned Twitch, Major League Gaming, and YouTube. Over half of them are under 35, making the eSports audience an especially juicy prospect for advertisers, ever-eager to court millennials.

Turner Sports president Lenny Daniels told Variety that the deal to create the league started to form about a year ago, really moving forward when Kevin Reilly took over as Turner chief creative officer and president of TNT and TBS in November. Reilly believes that their multi-platform approach and established expertise in sports coverage will allow TBS to tap into the large and passionate extant eSports audience, in addition to drawing new people in.

“The level of rabid fandom and engagement that we see in this world is extraordinary,” Reilly said, “and we aim to up the experience for both the players and fans alike and provide a cutting-edge live experience on both linear and digital TBS platforms.”

Turner and WME/IMG will announce further details later this year, including teams, commentary talent, and schedules.

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Will Fulton is a New York-based writer and theater-maker. In 2011 he co-founded mythic theater company AntiMatter Collective…
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