Major eSports producer ESL has inked a partnership with David Hill — the former longtime Fox TV exec who launched Fox Sports in the U.S. — to give its video-game competitions television-style production values.
Hill will work exclusively with ESL on special projects with select game publishers and sponsors to develop premium eSports events through Hilly, the production shingle he established after exiting 21st Century Fox in 2015.
Hill’s first orders of business will be training ESL production teams on TV best practices and recruiting and grooming star-caliber eSports announcers. “We’re going to find gaming’s answer to Joe Buck and Terry Bradshaw,” said Hill, referring to two of Fox’s top sportscasters.
ESL, majority-owned by Swedish media conglomerate MTG, produces 20,000-plus hours of eSports programming per year through in-person and online competitions and tournaments for game titles including Riot’s “League of Legends,” Blizzard Entertainment’s “Overwatch” and Valve’s “Counter Strike: Global Offensive.”
But much of ESL’s content, which is streamed on Twitch and other platforms, has been comparatively amateurish to date. “Being absolutely fair, it’s not the acme of television production,” Hill said. “We’re going to make gaming [TV] network-ready, because we firmly believe the next big thing in entertainment is video gaming.”
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ESL exec chairman Steven Roberts said Hill’s involvement in the industry is testament to the exploding popularity of eSports. “We saw that there’s an opportunity with David’s creative genius to elevate the overall level of our content production,” he said.
Other players have made bids to bring eSports to TV audiences, including most notably Turner and WME/IMG’s ELeague, whose events have aired on TBS. Said Hill about ESL’s programming ambitions: “We expect TV networks will be coming to us.”
Hill spent more than two decades at Fox, where he’s best known for spearheading the launch of Fox Sports, where his innovations included the now-omnipresent score/time-remaining on-screen box and the first-down graphic for NFL broadcasts. He also helped launch the Fox Network, Sky Television and Fox’s regional sports networks. Most recently, Hill co-produced the 88th Academy Awards and also served as executive producer on “The X Factor” and the last two seasons of “American Idol.”
Hill says he’s a longtime fan of video games, noting that at Fox Sports he encouraged staffers had to play games for at least half an hour every day. “I’ve always looked to the gaming industry for inspiration for sports programming, especially in the areas of graphics, audio and design,” he said.
ESL will employ Hill for its larger-budget eSports tourneys, which are akin to other sports league’s playoffs. The company also is considering launching a pay-per-view model for its biggest events, though those details still need to be worked out, Hill said.
Founded in 2000 and based in Cologne, Germany, ESL launched its U.S. studio in Burbank, Calif., in 2014. Last year ESL tallied more than 250,000 attendees at its live events, which include Intel Extreme Masters and ESL One. To date, the company has paid out over $25 million in prize money to eSports teams and individuals.