ESPN to Air League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split Playoffs

    • Agreement with Riot Games helps to fill a void in ESPN live sports linear programming.
    • League of Legends Championship Series spring split will air on ESPN2 for the first time.

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ESPN has announced an agreement with Riot Games to broadcast the League of Legends Championship Series spring split playoffs on ESPN2 and the ESPN app. 

LCS is North America’s professional League of Legends esports competition. The league’s spring split playoffs, which began April 3 and will conclude on April 19, has its winner qualify to play in the Mid-Season Invitational. The MSI annually pits the winners of spring splits from all 12 League of Legends leagues around the world before teams shift to the summer portion of the schedule.

Riot Games postponed this year’s MSI tournament until July 3 over coronavirus concerns last month. 

ESPN has a long history bringing esports competitions to viewers for titles such as Overwatch, DOTA 2, Madden, and FIFA. The company also previously aired the League of Legends World Championships in 2014 on ESPN3, which collectively drew more viewers than the clinching games of the World Series and NBA Finals that season, according to Riot Games.

This deal will allow ESPN to serve new audiences by placing League of Legends on linear television for the first time, the network said. Matches will be available on-demand on the ESPN app.

“Hosting the Spring Split playoffs on ESPN’s platforms allows us to introduce the LCS to even more fans, including many new to esports,” Chris Greeley, LCS Commissioner, said in an email. “It’s a proud moment for LCS fans to be part of an iconic sports brand like ESPN, and show our community’s passion to the world.”

ESPN just concluded 12 hours of esports coverage on April 5, and the sports network is looking for new ways to entertain viewers at home with sports leagues on hiatus. Coverage on April 5 was highlighted by live action from the NBA2K player tournament and F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix.

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“The circumstances surrounding the pandemic created a unique challenge and opportunity in the absence of most live sports to serve sports fans of all kinds with the best possible content available,” John Lasker, vice president of digital programming at ESPN, said. “We remain committed to serving this passionate and growing audience. We have and will continue to cover the [esports] category in the highest quality live and surrounding coverage our fans have come to expect.” 

ESPN declined to share ratings for individual esports programming on April 5, citing “unprecedented times and the scope of what is upon us.” However, the NBA 2K player’s tournament averaged an audience of more than 350,000 viewers, according to ShowBuzzDaily.

“We hope there is more to come,” Lasker said. “We will continue to explore opportunities in esports to grow our brand and expand our audience.”