ESL VP on airing Street Fighter, speedrunning on Disney XD: 'We feel that there is too [much] Counter-Strike and Dota content out there'

by Sasha Erfanian Jul 25 2017
Thumbnail image courtesy of ESL

On July 20, ESL premiered two new shows on Disney XD's new late night gaming block, D|XP.

ESL Brawlers is a King of the Hill-style Street Fighter V show that features the defending champion trying to hold the title against different challengers, while ESL Speedrunners follows well-known speedrunners trying to break records.

While this is ESL's first time appearing on traditional TV in America, Disney XD previously dipped their toes into esports by broadcasting the Top 8 of Super Smash Bros. 4 at EVO 2017.

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"Gaming is a lifestyle for our audience," said Disney XD's Senior Vice President Marc Buhaj in a statement. "This summer, we're collaborating with leading creative partners in the industry to deliver original programming, access to some of the biggest esports tournaments and leagues, and entry to key gaming-related events. D|XP will showcase diverse storytelling across the video game landscape, and celebrate gaming culture and community."

To learn more about the collaboration, theScore esports spoke with Nik Adams, Senior Vice President of Global Media Rights and Distribution at ESL, about keeping esports Disney-friendly, why speedrunning made more sense than CS:GO and why esports are closer to the WWE than the NBA.

How did this partnership happen?

We are taking the next step with our content and the next step is building original programming around ESL and esports and competitive gaming content, and of course we were shopping around the industry and we feel that Disney XD is a great partner for us and they felt the same way.

Why do you think Disney is pursuing esports content?

Disney have a new adult programming block intended for older audiences at night on XD channel and they felt that esports would be a good part of it, a good fit within this older night block of programming. So it's not like a usual [block] intended for a young audience, but more older audience at night.

Because D|XP is a later time slot, how much freedom do you guys have in terms of adult content like swearing, violence, risque character designs, etc.?

It's still Disney that we're talking about right? I feel swearing and adult language is nothing that would fit with this channel and we also don't see ourselves with the brand facing that we represent that we want to [work with] adult language too much. So we know that in some channels like Twitch for example this happens, but especially for our other partners — Proctor and Gamble or Intel — we try to stay away from adult language and swearing.

What criteria did ESL use to choose games for D|XP?

It was a creation together with Disney, but what we wanted to achieve here is we didn't want to do another Counter-Strike, another Dota show. We want to open up for new audiences and lower the barrier of entry of esports. For example, Street Fighter is something everyone really understands and also with speedrunning and Vainglory, I mean, this is something that's more easier to digest than to watch a Counter-Strike match and this is what we're going for.

Why was speedrunning selected for the block?

Because it's easy to understand and easy to follow, someone trying to master a game as fast as possible is like, you don't really have to have in-depth knowledge of this game. There's one cue of one guy racing through this game, which is a lot easier we think than when you have for example a Counter-Strike match where you have different maps and 10 different players you have to follow and we have to do the history of those players and whose doing which strategy and so on. [With] a Counter-Strike match, you have to be very detailed in the scene and in this game to actually follow what's going on. With the speedrunning, I think this is the easiest way to enter esports and gaming right now.

Considering Disney XD aired the EVO Smash Bros. 4 Grand Final recently, could a Smash show join the lineup?

Yes, absolutely, and we are also open to Smash Bros. at some point, we just felt like the editors were leaning towards Street Fighter and we think it's an awesome game and we're still open maybe for the next season to do Smash Bros. or any other fighting game. First we have to prove that the show, that the audience wants to watch it and then there is the math for it and then we can switch to other games.

Could the block also include event broadcasts in the future?

Right now, Disney is just looking at this night block, trying to fill this night block. If they're gonna take it from there and open it up when there's more demand and the viewership is there, maybe. I mean, that's how TV channels work right? When there's more demand then they buy more content and we believe very strongly that our content is interesting. And of course, to build then a compelling fighting game package for TV channel of course, all the major leagues should be a part of it.

What other esports do you think could join D|XP's lineup?

We have a maturing audience all the time, that means we start with content which is easily digestible which has a more entry-level, people can get into it and get interested in and then we can step-by-step bring more hardcore esports titles maybe. I think there's a huge opportunity in building something together with the fighting game community and maybe taking other games, maybe doing more tournaments around it and I think we want to explore this in every direction. We feel that there is too [much] Counter-Strike and Dota content out there, which is awesome and there's huge demand for it and we do a lot of it, but maybe we should focus more on other games as well because there's so many nice games out there which nobody actually plays and don't have this big esports audience which we have with Counter-Strike and we have to build that.

Beyond Disney XD, Disney has also pushed esports content on ESPN with several event broadcasts. Between the two channels, which audience do you think esports appeals to more?

We were obviously leaning towards ESPN and towards sports in general. The last two years we had a very, very deep partnership with Yahoo Esports and what we learned with Yahoo Esports is that the sports audience didn't transfer as well over to esports than we hoped it would transfer over. So, we also think that esports still is something for maybe a younger audience, people who are more into action sports more than into a NBA or NFL. So we're leaning more towards the WWE or UFC audience, which are still sports businesses but also more entertainment businesses. So right now I believe Disney is the perfect fit for us and with the audience, especially the audience they're targeting at night which is a little bit older than the usual younger audience, I think that's the perfect audience for us.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.