Yahoo Esports - League of Legends
Courtesy of Riot Games

Yahoo has taken a hatchet to big pieces of its media operations, but continues to invest in key vertical segments: The company is launching an eSports gaming news and video site, hoping to lure fans in the fast-growing competitive gaming space.

Yahoo Esports, under the Yahoo Sports umbrella, initially will focus coverage on five titles: Riot Games’ “League of Legends” (pictured above); Blizzard Entertainment’s “Heroes of the Storm”; Valve’s “Counter-­Strike: Global Offensive” and “Dota 2”; and Capcom’s “Street Fighter V.”

The move comes after a flurry of activity among media companies scrambling to get a piece of the eSports action. Competitive online gaming had a global audience of over 226 million people in 2015, according to research firm Newzoo, and that’s expected to continue to grow.

In January, ESPN launched an eSports site, and is re-teaming with Activision Blizzard to televise the “Heroes of the Dorm” collegiate eSports competition. Meanwhile, ELeague sports venture from Turner Broadcasting and WME/IMG plans to kick off its first event May 24.

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Yahoo Esports will have an emphasis on original video content covering live tournaments, focusing on players with commentary, interviews and in-­depth features. In addition, the site will maintain industry-wide calendars, stats and player rankings, akin to the info Yahoo Sports provides for leagues like the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. The site also will have a live chat feature for fans to connect with each other and root for their favorite teams.

“We want to be the premiere destination for eSports, for those fans and communities,” said Bob Condor, VP of Yahoo Sports Media. “I make no pretensions that coming out of launch we will be that site. It’s critical to understand what fans want for each of these games… I think we’ll see how they respond to what we do as opposed to what any competitor does.”

The launch of Yahoo Esports comes as the company is cutting back in other areas. It recently shut down seven digital magazines, and is folding its Smart TV and Games businesses. That came after the company shuttered the Yahoo Screen video service and retreated on making original entertainment content.

Yahoo’s current media strategy, as outlined by CEO Marissa Mayer, focuses on four areas: news, finance, sports and lifestyle. The new eSports vertical will use much of the infrastructure Yahoo Sports has already built, Condor said. “We are a 24-7 operation,” he said. “We care what’s on the site at 2 a.m. Pacific because there’s another side of the world following eSports or the NBA or whatever it may be.”

Yahoo has made several key hires for the eSports site. Those include Andrea Rene, host of GameStop TV and the gaming news show “GND Weekly” for Gamer Next Door, who will host eSports experts covering weekly tournaments and unique stories; Travis Gafford, formerly with CBS Interactive’s GameSpot, who will lead “League of Legends” video coverage; Taylor Cocke, who has worked for IGN, Kotaku and Red Bull; and Dylan Walker, an eSports correspondent who will cover “Heroes of the Storm” and “Counter-­Strike: Global Offensive.”

Condor said Yahoo is in active talks with a number of potential sponsors for the eSports site. “Fans have expectations, but we also want to create a destination that appeals to sponsors,” he said.

While Yahoo Esports will not carry live matches at first, Condor said the company is open to partnerships to live-stream tournaments on the site.

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