Facebook continues to bolster its eSports credentials as the social networking giant expands its streaming video offerings.
On Thursday, video game developer Hi-Rez Studios and the World ESports Association (WESA) announced that Facebook Live will be the exclusive streaming home for all video content from their new eSports league, the Paladins Premier League. The league is based around the popular first-person, team-based shooter game, Paladins, which Hi-Rez launched last year and now boasts more than 15 million players worldwide.
Under the new partnership, Facebook will stream Paladins competitions featuring 10 teams of professional WESA eSports players, starting this fall. Hi-Rez COO and co-founder Todd Harris told Fortune that the company plans to invest roughly $3 million over the league's first year to go toward the professional players' salaries, with plans to also feature revenue-sharing among the teams. Facebook will also air a weekly Paladins ESports Show on Watch—the online video tab that Facebook fully rolled out in the past week to house its growing portfolio of streaming video programming—which will feature news and analysis from the Paladins Premier League.
Earlier this year, Facebook signed a deal with global eSports company ESL to live-stream thousands of hours of video game tournaments per year, along with another weekly eSports highlights show. Facebook also signed similar deals with gaming developers like Wargaming, while also adding an exclusive live-streaming deal for the Heroes of the Dorm eSports tournament featuring college teams from the U.S. and Canada. The company has been stocking up on eSports content in order to directly compete online with the likes of Google's YouTube and Amazon's Twitch, two of the leading digital video platforms for streaming eSports tournaments.
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Facebook eSports and gaming partnerships manager Patrick Chapman tells Fortune that there is plenty of potential for Watch to attract gaming and eSports fans from within Facebook's monthly user base of more than 2 billion people. "Some of them are passionate eSports fans now who tune in to watch content on YouTube or Twitch," Chapman says. "But going forward, when they start to see new content showing up on a new platform where they spend as much as an hour a day anyway, I think that offers growth opportunities for developers and content creators."
Hi-Rez's Paladins already has an established presence on the social networking platform, where the official Paladins Facebook Group attracts more than 30,000 amateur gamers around the world looking to chat about the game and potentially form teams to join open competitions. Hi-Rez's Harris says the games's Facebook group actually started organically, without any help from the gaming company, but the high level of engagement worldwide from Paladins fans helped convince Hi-Rez that Facebook was the right platform to build the league's popularity.
"We are a very community-driven developer," Harris says. "We try to meet our community where they are."
Earlier this summer, Hi-Rez launched the Paladins Global Series tournament for amateur players, who join via the Facebook Group and compete for a prize pool of $350,000 (with winners also getting. The company said more than 300 teams consisting of 1,500 players compete every week through the global series, and their matches will also stream exclusively on Facebook Live.
Other eSports leagues have also snagged exclusive streaming deals over the past year, including ESPN's $300 million agreement for the streaming rights to Riot Games' popular League of Legends tournament series, while the Fortune 500 game developer Activision Blizzard partnered with Amazon's Twitch as its third-party streaming outlet for several eSports competitions.