With newspapers vying for relevance in today’s media landscape, The Dallas Morning News is expanding its Dallas sports coverage – but not the Cowboys.
In an effort to diversify its esports reporting, the Dallas-based newspaper announced that it will be covering the Dallas Fuel, a founding member of Overwatch League, through the remainder of the 2019 season. It will use this season’s coverage to gauge interest in the team as it prepares to move to North Texas full-time in 2020.
For the Overwatch League, which is in its second year as a professional esports league, it’s been trying to connect with localized audiences. According to Commissioner Pete Vlastelica, the president and CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports, his league’s relationship with The Dallas Morning News could be the first step in landing future opportunities with other newspaper outlets.
“We think [The Dallas Morning News’] move to cover the Dallas Fuel Overwatch League team is a fantastic move, and local market sports coverage of Overwatch League teams is something we expect to see more of in the future,” said Vlastelica. “We want to throw our support behind this type of local market press coverage, and our teams are equally as excited as we move to play home matches in all local markets next season.”
For The Dallas Morning News, they will be covering a team that’s apart of sport’s most popular trends of late. According to Vlastelica, Overwatch League is the fastest-growing sports league among the 18-to-34 demographic. Since launching in 2018, the league has amassed more than 1 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Overwatch League has continued to grow in its sophomore season as well. According to league executives, it opened its 2019 campaign by reaching over 13 million viewers across its broadcast platforms – a 30% increase year-over-year. It also saw a global average minute audience (AMA) of 440,000, up 14 percent year-over-year.
And just recently, its Stage Two playoffs on ABC registered an AMA of more than 500,000 viewers, making it the best-performing esports broadcast ever across ESPN and ABC linear networks.
According to Tommy Magelssen, The Dallas Morning News’ assistant sports editor, seeing the league’s ascending relevance made him and his colleagues more interested in it. As someone who himself enjoys playing video games, Magelssen thinks that working with the Fuel is the perfect opportunity for both the newspaper to be innovative and the team to gain media exposure.
“One thing we’ve talked about here at The [Dallas] Morning News over the last year to 18 months is becoming the go-to source for things like niche topics,” said Magelssen. “Like high school football – our coverage is really unrivaled, so we looked at, ‘well, could [esports] become a niche topic for The Dallas Morning News if we can really own it?’”
Even non-millennials like Garry Leavell have a difficult time denying esports’ increasing popularity in today’s society. As The Dallas Morning News’ sports editor, Leavell acknowledges that there’s a learning curve for understanding esports’ complexity. However, he believes that the Fuel can help the newspaper reach an untraditional audience unfamiliar with its work.
“This was a natural [move] because we know there’s a huge audience obviously out there for esports, but they generally don’t fit the profile of the traditional print newspaper reader,” said Leavell. “Looking to expand our coverage digitally, this looked like a natural fit at least to give a try to.”
Even with esports’ burgeoning prosperity, some in the industry are still working to better inform the public about it. According to Geoff Moore, president and chief operating officer of Envy Gaming – which owns the Dallas Fuel – there are certain stigmas still attached with esports.
Because of these perceptions, Moore argues that this has hurt the sport’s reputation. For him, having The Dallas Morning News cover the Fuel can help quell this issue by helping outsiders better understand esports.
“We also need the wider marketplace to be aware of what we’re doing and understand this because that lack of awareness and understanding can lead to negative reactions by people that don’t really understand competitive video game playing as a spectator sport,” said Moore. “We’ve seen some of that recently too in the news – that people that don’t understand us. But once they understand it and are exposed to it, then with knowledge, that stuff goes away.”
For Magelssen and Leavell, the duo are focusing on making Fuel coverage entirely digital. During the remainder of the 2019 season, it will be published for free through SportsDay, The Dallas Morning News’ online sports section. After this season, there is a possibility that the newspaper makes this a paid subscription model in 2020.
With The Washington Post recently joining The Dallas Morning News in covering esports, more media outlets are accepting its place in sports conversation. Given how far esports has come – and its seemingly limitless potential – Leavell thinks that today’s media is only scratching the surface when it comes to esports reporting.
“I think it’s just natural – pretty much all media companies are looking for an audience and looking to go where the eyeballs are,” said Leavell. “The numbers, both domestically and internationally, they’re pretty large for esports. Somebody is going to do good work covering esports because there seems to be a lot of interest out there.”