ESPN will be shutting down their entire esports division. The division will no longer publish news and their social media will go dark in the next few days.
Last Thursday, ESPN announced that they would be eliminating around 10% of their workforce. That equates to 300 layoffs and 200 positions remaining vacant. In a memo obtained by CNBC, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro wrote:
“the pandemic’s significant impact on our business clearly accelerated those forward-looking discussions. In the short term, we enacted various steps like executive and talent salary reductions, furloughs and budget cuts, and we implemented innovative operations and production approaches, all in an effort to weather the COVID storm.”
Esports at ESPN
ESPN’s bread and butter is the coverage of live sports events, like all in person entertainment, it has been negatively affected by the pandemic. It’s unfortunate, however, that the division that they chose to bear the brunt of the losses would be one that is perhaps best suited to move all their coverage and sports online.
ESPN has been slowly moving their focus away from hard news to a direct to consumer approach. That meant that even before the layoff were announced, the esports division had reduced the budget for travel, freelancers, writer salaries, and they got the majority of their news coverage syndicated from Reuters.
It is not surprising then that an ESPN spokesperson who went on the record with Kevin Hitt at the Esports Observer said:
“We have made the difficult decision to cease operations for our dedicated daily esports editorial and content. We recognize esports as an opportunity to expand our audience, and we’ll continue to do so through coverage from the broader team for major events, breaking news and coverage.”
Staffers begin to resign
It looks like some writers at the esports division saw the writing on the wall and left before they could be laid off. Popular esports journalist, Jacob Wolf announced that he would not be returning to ESPN after his contract expires in January of next year. He joined ESPN when he was just 19 years old and spent four and a half years at the organisation. He became well known for his coverage of League of Legends and his coverage of the shooting at the Madden tournament saw him nominated for a Tempest award.
His announcement came after the news that ESPN Esports Senior Editor Darin Kwilinski, left of his own volition, and editor Sean Morrison, journalist Emily Rand, and video producer Thomas Tischio announced that they were being laid off or not having their contracts renewed.
In his public statement, Wolf wrote:
“I will be leaving ESPN when my contract expires, amid layoffs that see the majority of my colleagues in the esports division become jobless. I am heartbroken for them … Thank you to all the other people who have reached out today, after the news, to offer both their condolences and professional opportunities. As part of the layoffs, ESPN notified Tyler, Emily and me today that we will not be renewed. In that way, it is mutual.”
The future of esports at ESPN
This news does not bode well for mainstream coverage of esports. ESPN will still cover esports, they have secured rights for various events with an upcoming broadcast schedule that includes NBA 2K League, V10 R-League, F1 Esports. Despite this, their Twitch streams of events barely manage to gain traction. Out of their 288 broadcasts, only 25 exceeded 1000 viewers.