Although ESPN has dabbled lightly in eSports coverage over the last year, Turner Broadcasting is the first television network to go all-in with eSports. Beginning in 2016, Turner Sports president Lenny Daniels says the network will cover Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and eSports just like it covers traditional sports like Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NCAA Final Four.

“We’re going to treat eSports athletes like they’re LeBron James or Bryce Harper,” Daniel says.

Turner has partnered with sports talent management agency WME/IMG to launch an eSports league in 2016, which will consist of two 10-week tournaments featuring the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Daniels says there will be four days of digital programming across Turner-owned properties, including Bleacher Report, that leads up to TBS televised coverage each Friday night.

“We understand livestreaming is a big part of eSports and we’ve watched a lot of coverage,” Daniels says. “We’re going to offer fans a new way to experience the televised content through a second screen digital experience that will allow them to choose different camera angles, focus on their favorite players, see what the coaches are doing, and interact with the broadcast.”

According to Newzoo CEO Peter Warman, eSports is a $278 million business today, and the industry is forecast to surpass $765 million by 2018.

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But Daniels believes there’s a much larger potential audience for eSports with more mainstream sports fans.

“ESports has a real shot at becoming a more mainstream sport,” Daniels says. “We’re going to treat it clearly as a sport so that people will understand what it takes to do what these guys do. We’ll tell the stories around that.”

While Turner’s digital plans will open up eSports to the global audience, Daniels says Turner and WME/IMG will add international broadcast distribution to target television viewers around the world.

“We chose Counter-Strike: Global Offensive because it’s easier to understand for the new audience we’re bringing in,” Daniels says. “Valve understands what we’re trying to do and the importance of growing the entire eSports ecosystem. This won’t be the only game we ever do, but we’re putting all of our efforts into this game to launch. And then we’ll evolve.”

SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen says Turner’s dedicated television coverage of eSports both validates competitive gaming as a form of entertainment and, perhaps more importantly, improves its visibility among traditional media executives.

“It provides a test case to the doubters who feel that there is not enough of an audience to make this worthwhile,” van Dreunen says. “But, as we’ll see, eSports has become so popular in recent years that advertisers, brands, and broadcasters alike only stand to gain from embracing this phenomenon.”

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