Echo Fox, founded by former Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics small forward Rick Fox made a huge splash in the League of Legends eSports scene in December when they acquired Gravity Gaming’s spot in the North American LCS for a fee believed to be around US $1 million. The organization has been expanding swiftly in eSports by signing the Counter Strike team known as Torqued, who’s last competition was the MLG Columbus 2016 Last Chance Qualifiers a few weeks ago, where they placed 5th – 8th, failing to qualify for the MLG major.
Spearheaded by Sean “seang@res” Gares, who is looking to get back into competitive play after stepping down from Cloud 9 only two months ago, is closely followed by Mohamad “mOE” Assad, who are household names in the CS:GO scene. Sean Gares is arguably one of the best in game leaders that the North American competitive Counter Strike scene has to offer, and mOE boasts over 500,000 followers on Twitch TV and is known for his competitive nature. The team also consists of Trey “tck” Martin, Armeen “a2z” Toussi and Ronnie “ryx” Bylicki, three other well-known figures in the Counter Strike community.
Despite being a fairly new team with no accomplishments to their name, Echo Fox have secured an invitation to the lucrative eLeague competition, which consists of a prize pool worth US $1.2 million.
In an interview with ESPN, Rick Fox states that his vision for Echo Fox was to be a large eSports organization:
“My vision for Echo Fox has always been much larger than League of Legends,” Rick Fox told ESPN, “League is clearly a key component and a great starting point as the most played PC game in the world, but I am building what I intend to be the preeminent eSports empire.”
“Given my desire to have one of the leading franchises in [Turner’s] ELEAGUE, I have spent the past several months putting together the best team possible.
“The team we signed is lead by some of the top players in the game. m0E is a household name in the CS:GO community and has over 500,000 followers on Twitch. sgares lead his team to a first place finish in the IBuyPower Cup last year and was rated as the best in game leader in North America.
“I know these two, as well as the others, were all being courted by other top teams. We are excited to have them as part of the Echo Fox family and expect to do big things together.”
The team started to form when Fox met mOE at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Turner had hosted it’s first CS:GO competition. After lengthy conversations with mOE, Echo Fox had signed him to help form a team. Fox had then turned his attention to Sean Gares, who is regarded as one of the best strategic players in the world.
Sean was being courted by a number of other North American organizations but had signed with Echo Fox due to the intriguing possibility that he could help form a new line up into being a top contender in North American Counter Strike.
In an interview cited by DailyDot, Sean had this to say about signing with Echo Fox:
“The possibility of molding a new lineup into a top contender in North America is something that has always intrigued me, and now I can finally attempt it with four great players,” he says. “Although it will be tough, I’m certain that we can work hard enough to produce a dominant force in the scene.”
Acquiring players like Sean “seang@res” Gares and Mohamad “mOE” Assad guarantees a large support base for Echo Fox as they head into the eLeague competition, since Sean and mOE both have a decently large following on Twitch TV, Sean also has dedicated fans who follow him from Cloud 9, and will be looking to support and learn from him as he takes on a new challenge with this new team. With a large support base will come a large viewing base, which will benefit Echo Fox and the eLeague organizers alike. Simultaneously, signing veterans like Sean and mOE, alongside a2z, ryx and tck may prove to be somewhat of an advantage with the individual experience the squad has going into this major tournament.
Simultaneously, with former professional basketball player Rick Fox expanding his organization’s eSports teams, another big player in sports television has taken a particular interest in eSports, with ESPN investing in covering eSports.
In mid January, ESPN had launched it’s eSports vertical, which arguably brings a new sense of legitimacy to the industry. This, however is a complete backflip on the organization’s stance on eSports in 2014, with president John Skipper stating that he does not believe that eSports qualifies as a real sport.
Debatable. See chess, for example. No offense to chess players, of course.
However, ESPN’s decision to finally cover eSports is being welcomed, particularly by Sebastian Park, COO of Team Archon who said in an interview with Forbes that “..it’s awesome. I think it’s a great decision on their part. We’re hopeful this encourages better tournament schedules.”
With ESPN launching the eSports vertical, it can be seen as another step towards mainstream acceptance of professional video gaming.. The eSports industry will grow from $278 million in revenue in 2015 into a $765 million industry by 2018, according to forecasts from research firm Newzoo. eSports is also attracting a young male gaming demographic that advertisers crave. Newzoo estimates over 88 million active eSports fans and an additional 117 million casual eSports fans watch events and competitions today. Advertisers, ESPN and competition hosts are set to benefit from the mass coverage massively.
In an interview on Fortune Magazine, Chad Millman, editor in chief of ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com said that “The addition of eSports coverage fits within the framework of sports reporting”
“There are so many similarities between eSports and what we traditionally think of as mainstream, stick-and-ball sports,” Millman says. “The intensity level of the competition, the intrigue amongst the ownership groups, the following eSports has. All of it allowed for us to play in a space that is comfortable for us as far as reporting, specifically telling stories about these various disciplines, covering the events and breaking news.”
A piece written on ESPN’s website about League of Legends player “Faker” received over 1 million page views. The statistics showed, according to Millman, that it was not just the eSports community reading and responding to the article about “Faker”, that it was “a wide swath of readers and consumers of ESPN.”
With the expansion of Echo Fox, and Rick Fox’s interest in eSports as well as ESPN expanding it’s bases to cover major events in all of the games involved in the eSports scene such as Hearthstone, Counter Strike, League of Legends, Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm and so forth, what could it mean for the future of eSports?
Simply put, big things.
Firstly, it means more viewership, advertisement revenue, endorsement from gamers who may not play popular eSports titles and from individuals who see fail to recognize eSports as a sport. While the Olympic Board or any other sporting organization that has international games involving multiple countries may not recognize it, eSports is very well a sport. They train, prepare and compete just like normal sportspeople, the only difference is the physical output, but the amount of preparation, dedication and professionalism is about level. Overall, it is a fruitless argument, but with the broadcasting power ESPN has, it could see a rapid change in mentality from those who are not involved in eSports in any sort of way and it may become accepted in mainstream media in a positive light.
Secondly, larger prize pools. The more ad revenue, the more endorsement, which means larger prize pools for winning teams, runner ups and so forth. This allows for more incentive to participate and will more than likely provide more intense competition in the future.
Thirdly, aside from ESPN’s obvious influence on boosting the scene of eSports, if other former sporting superstars follow the path of Rick Fox, we could see more competitive gaming talent being discovered, which makes ground for more teams and in turn more competitions for minor teams, or even major teams, and allows for new talent to make a name for themselves easily and be scouted and picked up by higher up teams. More money invested means more incentive to play, incentive to play means incentive to compete, and to be the best. Simultaneously, it will also grow the eSports scenes around the world, particularly in countries that need the growth the most if they want to become big players in the world stage, such as Australian eSports.
These a few of the many possibilities of ESPN’s step into eSports, as well as a stepping-stone that Rick Fox has laid for other former sporting stars to join him in the digital sporting era. With ESPN finally endorsing the eSport product, time will tell if the growth of eSports will be astronomical or not.
However, regardless of ESPN’s broadcasting of eSports, it is bound to grow. Maybe not at the astronomical rates predicted due to ESPN’s coverage, but it has enough traction to grow itself at a steady pace. eSports is a growing industry, and ESPN’s investment in it is seen as a smart business decision for all parties involved, including teams and tournament hosting organizations.
ESPN has the potential to revolutionize eSports broadcasting, there is absolutely no doubt about the potential there. It is just how the potential is utilized that could really revolutionize eSports broadcasting. A world where majors are covered by ESPN in cinemas, on the television as well as Twitch, Azubu and other streaming utilities. The possibilities are endless, and with the possibilities comes the potential viewership rising dramatically, so that it can rival the Superbowl’s viewership numbers or possibly bigger. The opportunities are endless as ESPN’s eSports coverage continues to grow. Those possibilities above may be a bit ambitious, but it can happen.
Things are truly looking good for eSports growth in the future.