Inside ESPN’s exit from esports, layoffs, and what it means for media

  • ESPN is shutting down its esports division in a move that surprised several of its editorial staffers.
  • The job cuts come as part of a broader 300-person round of layoffs.
  • Earlier this year, ESPN had leaned into its esports coverage as live sports shut down during the pandemic. 
  • “All of us working for esports thought we were working on building something that was very important for ESPN’s future,” one of the laid-off employees said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When the NBA, NHL, and other live sports ground to halt in March, esports took on more of the spotlight at sports-media outlets including ESPN.

The cable network started airing “League of Legends,”NBA 2K,” and “Rocket League” tournaments on its secondary channel. And its esports division, used to covering events from around the world remotely, pressed on. It covered championships, livestreaming contests on Twitch, and expanded into general gaming coverage.

So it came as a big shock to some staffers in ESPN’s esports division when they were told last week that their jobs were being eliminated as part of mass layoffs that cut 500 jobs across the Disney-owned company.

ESPN confirmed in a statement that it was shutting down its dedicated esports division.

“We have made the difficult decision to cease operations for our dedicated daily esports editorial and content,” the company said. “We recognize esports as an opportunity to expand our audience, and we’ll continue to do so through coverage from the broader team for major events, breaking news and coverage.”

Those still working in the esports unit, most of whom are remaining in their roles for 60 days after receiving their pink slips, were told on Wednesday that they would no longer be producing content for the vertical, one laid-off staffer told Business Insider. This person spoke under condition of anonymity to protect future job prospects, as did three other laid-off or former staffers.

“It was kind of shocking,” the person said. “All of us working for esports thought we were working on building something that was very important for ESPN’s future. We really showed that during the pandemic.”

ESPN jumped into esports about five years ago, when it aired its first big esports matchup, broke through with Mina Kimes’ ESPN Magazine profile of gaming prodigy Faker, and started building the dedicated esports division that launched in early 2016. Other sports media companies, like Turner Sports and Yahoo Sports, also started investing more in esports around that time, signaling that the category was moving from gamer circles into the mainstream.

ESPN and its competitors were looking to esports to reach new audiences, particularly young people who were not gravitating toward sports like football and baseball as much as previous generations. But esports never became big business for ESPN, which…

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