ESPN+, the Disney-owned sports programmer’s recently launched subscription service, is carrying Riot Games’ “League of Legends” live esports tournaments and events — starting with next month’s North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split.
However, ESPN+ won’t have exclusive rights to the “League of Legends” programming, which will continue to be distributed on Amazon-owned Twitch and other platforms.
Here’s the backstory: In 2016, Riot Games (publisher of multiplayer battle-arena title) inked a long-term pact with BAMTech for “League of Legends” esports content. Under the terms of that pact, BAMTech was to pay Riot Games at least $300 million through 2023 for exclusive rights to distribute and develop “League of Legends” esports events, as well as sell ads and sponsorships, sources confirmed.
Then, last year Disney acquired majority control BAMTech, the streaming-media provider founded by Major League Baseball (which remains a minority shareholder along with the NHL). With Disney’s takeover of BAMTech, the focus shifted to supporting ESPN+ as a “multi-sport” streaming product rather than launching a separate “League of Legends” service. So, Riot Games entered into a new, multiyear agreement with the Walt Disney Co.’s Direct-to-Consumer & International segment along with ESPN, which provides for non-exclusive content rights to “League of Legends” content.
New York-based BAMTech Media handles development and operation of ESPN+ (as well as the forthcoming Disney SVOD service, set to launch in 2019).
ESPN+, priced starting at $4.99 per month, provides thousands of hours of live sports events, including hundreds of MLB, NHL and MLS games, Grand Slam tennis, Top Rank boxing, PGA Tour golf, college sports, international rugby, cricket, and the full library of ESPN Films (including “30 for 30”). The over-the-top service, while it includes ads in live content, eliminates standard display ads as well as pre- and post-roll video ads for subscribers.
The question is how much the live “League of Legends” competitions will enhance the appeal of ESPN+. Given that the coverage will be available elsewhere for free, esports fans don’t need to subscribe to ESPN+ to catch the action.
In any event, ESPN+ subscribers will be able to tune in to “LOL” coverage starting June 16 with the 2018 North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split (NA LCS). Riot Games announced the 10 franchise teams for the league last fall.
The NA LCS’s 10 teams will face off against each other twice in the course of the season, for a total of 18 matches each with teams playing once per day. The competition stretches across two splits, spring and summer. Matches will stream live on ESPN+ Saturday and Sundays.
This year the NA LCS Summer Finals will be at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 8-9, with the third-place match on Saturday, Sept. 8, before the Summer Split champion is decided on Sunday, Sept. 9.
After the completion of the NA LCS Summer Split, three teams will qualify for the League of Legends World Championship in South Korea. The World Championship will see 24 teams from the 14 regional leagues fight for a chance to hoist the Summoners Cup later this fall.
According to Riot Games, the 2017 League of Legends World Championship held in China drew a record peak of 80 million unique viewers who tuned in for a single match while fans overall watched over 1.2 billion hours of content during the event.