In the years since, as the esports industry continued its ascent, ESPN covered nearly every step, earning awards and recognition for its coverage from a demanding audience that is sometimes wary of newcomers. Over five years, the site won two Esports Awards for its coverage. Two different writers took home esports journalist of the year.
In 2020, with traditional sports shuttered by the covid-19 pandemic and with gaming and esports gaining mainstream attention unmatched in its relatively young history, ESPN pulled the plug, closing down the dedicated digital esports operation and cutting ties with nearly all of the department’s workers.
The move sent shock waves through the industry, though not all parties interpreted the ripples the same way. Some saw the news as a setback in the push for mainstream acceptance. Some suggested it was because the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” didn’t appreciate or understand the gaming audience. Skeptics of esports’ popular (and financial) potential pointed to it as evidence of a bubble, suggesting that esports was not providing the value its advocates promised. Why, after all, would ESPN shutter something with so much immediate appeal, and holding such promise for the future?
In interviews with current and former ESPN employees with ties to the department from its origin to its end, the decision appears to have stemmed from