Facebook is pursuing eSports to satisfy user demand for more premium content. Earlier in 2017, the company inked deals with five eSports teams to publish live and on-demand video of players practicing and competing. Now Facebook has signed a deal with global eSports contest organizer ESL, to stream matches, player interviews and additional content. According to SuperData Research, in 2016 people watched 9.6 billion hours of live-streamed eSports and other videogame content, a number projected to rise to 11.4 billion in 2017.
The Wall Street Journal reports that other eSports partnerships include Team Dignitas, majority owned by the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, which signed on to Facebook’s paid content program when its exclusive Twitch contract ran out. Also signing on was Echo Fox, an eSports team co-founded by former basketball star Rick Fox; Facebook gave his team “advice on how to reach viewers and generate ad revenue.”
Facebook director of global games partnerships Leo Olebe said the company “plans to apply what it learns from its initial eSports partners to develop new features for game broadcasters.”
Facebook is also interested in traditional sports. Major League Baseball has agreed to air one game a week on Facebook, without regional blackouts, for a total of 20 games. In March, the company also “struck a deal to stream certain Major League Soccer games.”
All these deals reflect Facebook’s desire to bring “TV-like programming from sports, gaming and other genres to its platform.” It comes at a time when “many publishers are seeing lackluster viewership for their live videos on the platform,” and Facebook is dealing with figuring out how to censor violence and other objectionable content.
Under the terms of the Facebook deals, eSports partners “must produce a minimum number of hours of video for the social network, and in most cases the partners are allowed to simultaneously publish to rival platforms such as Amazon’s Twitch.” Analysts say that, readers of “Facebook’s news feed are more likely to watch polished videos with audio turned on, making them potentially lucrative vehicles for ads.”