ESPN Confirms Future Shut Down of Esports Editorial Operations

ESPN Esports will be shutting down its entire esports division, notwithstanding work that has already been filed. The division will no longer publish new news or articles and will also see its social media accounts go dark in the days ahead, sources with knowledge of the situation have told The Esports Observer. ESPN Esports was unable to escape the latest round of layoffs the company announced last week that saw writers Tyler Erzberger and Emily Rand announce their departure as well as editor Sean Morrison and video producer Thomas Tischio. Esports journalist Jacob Wolf earlier announced that he would not be returning after his contract expired in January and senior editor Darin Kwilinski abruptly announced his resignation last week.

“We have made the difficult decision to cease operations for our dedicated daily esports editorial and content,” an ESPN spokesperson told The Esports Observer. “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.”

Last Thursday, ESPN announced that it was eliminating approximately 500 jobs or 10% of its current work force to “weather the COVID storm,” according to Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s chairman. Of the 500, 300 positions would be laid off with the other 200 coming from a decision to not fill any positions that remained vacant.

However, the esports division was already seeing some line-item budget cuts in areas such as freelance as writers were told that the division would be using syndicated content from Reuters for the majority of its news coverage. The travel budget tightened, and new writers were signed at lower salaries than previously seen.

As the year progressed and with talk surrounding a strategy that would see ESPN focus more resources on a direct-to-consumer strategy, rumors were already circulating that ESPN Esports was looking to pivot to a similar strategy. As Reuters filled in a lot of the editorial content for the outlet, a noticeable change took place that saw a number of shows developed for ESPN Esports’ audience on Twitch. However, the shows didn’t deliver a great deal of traffic. The shows ran from Nov. 15, 2019, to Nov.10, 2020, and only 25 of the 288 drew more than 1K viewers, according to ESPN Rocket League Invitational tournament streams from July 24-26 saw more than 15K viewers log-in and watch each day.

Combined, these events had industry professionals believing that ESPN would be moving towards producing and facilitating esports events of its own much like the relationship ESPN has with X-Games. ESPN has in fact produced and broadcast esports events such as Overwatch and Rocket League as well as League of Legends which aired on ESPN 2 last April. Going forward, ESPN has secured rights for various events on an event-by-event basis with an upcoming broadcast slate that includes NBA 2K, V10 R-League, F1 Esports, and more.