Esports are becoming a bigger and bigger deal. Media outlets are staffing up to increase coverage. Competitors are finding new avenues of investment, to the extent that Manchester United considered signing an Overwatch team last summer. And, increasingly, esports competitions are getting in on traditional sports’ source of power and legitimacy— broadcast television.
Which makes the announcement earlier today that BT Sport will show the remainder of FIFA 17 Ultimate Team Championship Series live on TV in the UK a pretty big deal.
The tournament, sponsored and organized by EA Sports, focuses on elite competition in FIFA’s FUT mode, where players build custom teams and pit them against others. The UTCS is seen as one the most prestigious FIFA esports tournaments currently running.
While competitive FIFA doesn’t have the kind of audience pull as League of Legends or Overwatch, it’s hugely popular in the UK. Given BT Sport’s football programming— they have broadcast deals for the Premier League, the Champions League, and the Europa League— the UTCS seems to be a good fit for the network and an opportunity to attract a mainstream sports audience to professional gaming.
At least that’s what BT Sport head Simon Green is betting on.
”This is yet another example of live innovation from BT Sport. Competitive interactive football gaming is a rapidly growing industry and I’m delighted that BT Sport is now able to showcase it for the first time ever in the UK.”
And Todd Sitrin, a senior VP at EA and the head of their competitive gaming division, concurs.
”There’s a profound opportunity for competitive gaming to achieve mainstream success and the key to accomplishing this is accessibility. We’re thrilled to be partnering with BT Sport to make our exciting competitions for EA Sports FIFA, the most popular videogame in the UK, available across the nation as we move the industry forward.”
BT’s coverage of this season’s tournament begins on April 8th with the North American regionals in Vancouver. They’ll then broadcast the Asia-Pacific regionals in Singapore on April 22nd, the European regionals in Madrid on May 6th, and ending the season with the Championship Final in Berlin on May 20th and 21st.
Even if you’re not into esports— and you should be but I won’t judge— this is a story worth following. If BT Sport’s coverage of the UTCS nets some strong ratings, it could kick off some rapid growth when it comes to competitive FIFA. Manchester City are one of several European clubs to sign their own FIFA esports players, and if this proves to be lucrative and brand-friendly enough you can expect others to follow suit. This could lead to, say, every English top flight club fielding their own FIFA teams, competing against each other in a digital Premier League, and having their matches bundled together with the real-life Premier League as a value-add for their next big domestic broadcast contract. It’s less crazy than you might think.