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Hulu Dives Into eSports With Pact for Four Shows From ESL (EXCLUSIVE)

Hulu has caught the eSports bug: It has ordered four original series about the world of competitive video-gaming from ESL, a major eSports content and tournament producer.

The shows, which mark Hulu’s first foray into eSports, will premiere exclusively on the U.S. streaming platform later this fall. The four new series, comprising about 15 hours of content total, are being developed and produced by ESL. They are: game-style talk show “Player v. Player”; “Bootcamp,” a docu-series following The Immortals, a top “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” team; “Defining Moments,” exploring a different eSports topic each week; and “ESL Replay,” a one-hour show recapping four big tournaments.

“ESports is one of the fastest-growing areas of media and entertainment, and through this first-of-its-kind deal with ESL we can now bring the popular world of eSports to Hulu,” said Lisa Holme, Hulu’s VP of content acquisition. She added that Hulu subscribers, especially those who access the service on video-game consoles, “are hungry for this type of content — so we’re excited to offer it on Hulu for the first time.”

To head up production of the new shows, ESL tapped Barry Hennessey, an Emmy-winning producer whose credits include CBS’s “The Amazing Race” and A&E’s “Born This Way.” Production is set to begin this week.

Hennessey, who began working with ESL earlier this summer on the project, said he’s long been an avid gamer but was “blown away” by the energy when he attended the ESL One Brooklyn Beatdown event last month in New York featuring “Street Fighter V.”

“ESports has such a rabid fanbase,” he said. For ESL, the goal is to widen the scope of eSports as it migrates into mainstream entertainment. The shows are being produced for both hard-core eSports buffs, while also trying to be “accessible to video-game fans who aren’t necessarily familiar with ‘CS-GO’ tournaments,” Hennessey said.

“Hulu is a perfect match for us,” said Nik Adams, SVP of global media rights and distribution, given the younger-skewing, male demo of the subscription VOD service.

“After 15 years of live eSports, we are moving into a space to reach a broader audience,” said Adams. The exec, a co-founder of ESL, moved from last year from the company’s headquarters in Cologne, Germany, to L.A. aiming to cut entertainment-biz deals.

Here’s more info on the four eSports series coming to Hulu, which will release them on a weekly schedule:

  • “Player V. Player”: A “gamified” talk show with eSports-casters and influencers facing off over the hottest topics in esports. Panelists will accrue points while debating various current topics, with a final challenge over a classic video game. (Ten 30-minute episodes)
  • “Bootcamp”: Weekly documentary series following The Immortals as they rebuild their roster leading up to the Intel Extreme Masters Oakland event to compete in the “CS:GO” tournament Nov. 18-19 at Oracle Arena. The series promises unprecedented access to the inner workings of a pro eSports team, including a look at scrimmages and practice sessions at the team’s house. (Six 30-minute episodes)
  • “Defining Moments”: Experts, players and fans analyze a specific eSports theme in each weekly episode, ranging from controversial moves and their impact on gaming history to long-lasting rivalries and how they came to be. (Six 30-minute episodes)
  • “ESL Replay”: Documentary-style recaps of the most memorable moments from four of ESL’s biggest multi-day tournaments in the world, featuring behind-the-scenes footage not part of the tournament live stream. The four tourneys are “Dota 2” in Hamburg in late October; “CS:GO” and PlayerUnknown’s “Battlegrounds” (aka “PUBG”) in Oakland in November; and “CS:GO” in Denmark in December. (Four 60-minute episodes)

“Player V. Player” and “Bootcamp” will largely be shot on ESL’s stages in Burbank, Calif. For the “ESL Replay” recaps, the production team has just five days between shooting at the events and when the episodes go up on Hulu, according to Hennessey: “We have an incredibly short turnaround to stay authentic with our audience.”

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 Blizzard Entertainment’s “Overwatch” and Valve’s “Counter Strike: Global Offensive.” The company operates eSports leagues and tournaments including the Intel Extreme Masters, ESL One, and ESL National Championships.

Pictured above: ESL’s Intel Extreme Masters 2016 tournament in Oakland.

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