Yahoo capitalizes on its well-regarded Yahoo Sports with new esports push

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Yahoo has launched a new section on its network dedicated to covering esports. The company hopes that it will eventually become the “premiere destination for all things” in the gaming world, providing not only original and syndicated content but also a bounty of video interviews and livestream of matches.

It makes sense for Yahoo to enter the esports arena, which could be worth $463 million this year and $1.1 billion by 2019, according to market research firm Newzoo. But it’s already lagging behind one of its main competitor for sports readers and viewers online: ESPN, which announced plans for covering competitive gaming in January. Game publishers are also trying to corner the esports market: Activision Blizzard, which has several games with thriving esports communities, acquiring Major League Gaming (which organizes competitive gaming events) in January.

“I’m pumped about it,” said Bob Condor, Yahoo’s vice president for its sports media, when talking about the esports focus. Yahoo Esports is an extension of what its sports publication offers, and now is the time for the company to get involved in the space. Condor told VentureBeat that Yahoo has dedicated resources towards the most popular and hottest games, such as the multiplayer online strategy game League of Legends, and has reporters and editors looking at the news around esports. “Games can rise fast, and Yahoo will follow the trend lines,” he said.

The company crafted Yahoo Esports to become the definitive guide for all things gaming, bringing in much of the features you’d expect to see on a sports site. You’ll be able to receive editorial and video commentary, see match pages, team rosters, statistics of everyone, related schedules, and scores.

“You’re right that we’ll cover esports in a manner similar to regular sports,” Condor confirmed. “We have 24/7 blogging so that fans are on top of all the things out there like events, profiles, and reviews. We’re absolutely working hard in the space with stats, scores, standings, and whatever data we’ll bring.”

The first games that Yahoo will focus on include League of Legends, Dota 2, and Heroes of the Storm (the top three multiplayer online battle arena games), first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Street Fighter V (a fighting game). Future additions could include Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (the leading digital card battler) and Super Smash Bros, Nintendo’s long-lived brawler.

In order to add some credibility to the mix, the company has recruited industry experts like “State of the League” podcast creator Travis Gafford, former IGN and Kotaku reporter Taylor Cocke, gamer Dylan Walker, and veteran video games reporter and host of GameStop TV, Andrea Rene, who will all offer commentary and stories. Gafford told us that he’s been working in this field for the past five years and that “since coming on board at Yahoo, I’m excited about what they’re doing. It’s not the type of thing I’d jump in on unless I believed in it.”

Video will play a big part in the company’s approach to esports. Condor believes that a differentiator in what Yahoo does in the space compared to others is around video presentation. There are plans to even livestream matches using technology similar to what was used for the NFL game Yahoo broadcast from London last year. “We’re open to the opportunity of being the home for esports tournaments,” Condor answered when asked if the company would seek broadcasting rights for the games.

When asked if there was any partnership or integration of services like Twitch which has a massive audience around esports, Condor remarked that no such relationship currently existed. In fact, he stated that he’d rather not talk about competitors: “We want the users and esports community to decide how Yahoo fits into their day and week. We admire Twitch’s success and the things that they’ve done.”

“I don’t think there currently exists a website where you can go watch a stream of the tournaments happening, read original content and news in a way where certain people are exploring the space and doing exciting things. Yahoo is doing something I think that is really big, original, and industry-leading,” Gafford explained.

While this is Yahoo’s first official presence in the esports world, the company is far from being a stranger. There was speculation in 2015 that it would buy Major League Gaming. That deal never materialized and Activision wound up buying the esports company for $46 million earlier this year.

“[Yahoo’s entry into esports] is, broadly speaking, a good one — they’re seeing the same value and investing in a similar fashion to ESPN, whose esports launch was very well received,” said eSportsCatalyst executive and GamesBeat writer Kevin Hovdestad. “I legitimately believe that ESPN, Yahoo, etc. are all making this move at a time where the value in being involved is clear. … We’re past the point where only endemic players have an interest in esports, and that’s reflected in the investment and effort coming from organizations like Yahoo — companies who have the resources to bring something meaningful to the table, and who can afford to defray the costs of attracting and retaining top talent as the platform develops an audience.”

Yahoo Esports is available on the Web, but it won’t be available on mobile until later.

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