ESPN to broadcast esports during Super Bowl

FIFA, a wildly popular video game, is also a popular esport. Electronic Arts

Esports will be on ESPN during the Super Bowl.

Electronic Arts and ESPN announced Friday a partnership to broadcast the Paris Regional Final of the FIFA 17 Ultimate Team Championship on the main ESPN television channel, a first for an esports event, running counter to Sunday's Super Bowl LI on Fox. It marks the beginning of a season-long broadcast of events from seven cities around the world through May.

Sunday will be a one-hour rebroadcast from Paris on a tape delay from 6-7 p.m. ET, which will air around the Super Bowl kickoff, scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. ET.

"We're trying to line ourselves up so that we're covering the event when the event's happening. The idea that we're putting it up against the Super Bowl really has nothing to do with the Super Bowl itself," said John Lasker, vice president of ESPN Programming and Acquisition. Lasker believes that the audience for the Paris Regional Final is different than that of the Super Bowl, and that "the bar for viewership and ratings on TV, while things are ramping up for the Super Bowl, is relatively low."

While viewership for the Paris Regional Final will pale in comparison to Super Bowl LI, it is a good next step for the esports scene.

In past years, ESPN has shown broadcasts of various esports from Massive Online Battle Arena's (MOBAs) to fighting games.

"I do think the sports-related esports events are actually going to play better on linear TV compared to a MOBA game, which might be a little bit more difficult for our core sports ESPN audience to understand," Lasker said. A MOBA is a team-based five-on-five overhead strategy-combat game, that can be a little dense for newcomers.

After the hour-long event is over, the six remaining events will take place in the comings months on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN3. Globally, ESPN will also broadcast the Paris Regional Final, along with the six remaining FIFA EA Majors to 60 countries in English and Spanish. In English, those include Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands, all via TSN. For Spanish, it will be broadcast in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Brazil will get a broadcast in Portuguese.

It wouldn't be an esports event if there weren't any internet streaming options. The FIFA ultimate Team Championship Series will also be streamed live on Twitch and YouTube.

"We agree with the notion that esports is sort of endemically a digital-first category in terms of its consumption and distribution, and we totally understand and respect that. We think what we're doing by putting this on TV is expanding upon what already exists as the core audience," Lasker said.

The Paris Regional Final is continuing a trend of ESPN broadcasting esports. Heroes of the Dorm, a collegiate Heroes of the Storm tournament, was on ESPN2 in 2015. Last year the Evolution Championship, a premiere fighting game tournament in Las Vegas, broadcast the Street Fighter V finals. The Madden NFL 16 Championships and the 2016 Capcom Cup were on ESPN2 last year as well.

Also, ESPN Brazil announced Thursday a partnership with the ESL Brasil Premiere League to air Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Clash Royale five days a week. It will amount to more than 200 hours of programming through the year, and the 105-plus events will also be streamed on ESPN+ and WatchESPN.

The full FIFA 17 Ultimate Team Championship schedule is below:

  • Saturday, Feb. 4 (Paris): Live at noon on ESPN Deportes & ESPN3

  • Sunday, Feb. 5 (Paris): 6-7 p.m. ESPN (tape delay)

  • Saturday, Feb. 11 (Sydney): Live at 3 a.m. on ESPN Deportes & ESPN3, 7 a.m. on ESPN2 (tape delay)

  • Sunday, Feb. 19 (Miami): Live at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 & ESPN Deportes

  • Saturday, April 8 (Vancouver): Live at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 & ESPN Deportes

  • Saturday, April 22 (Singapore): Live at 6 a.m. on ESPN2 & ESPN Deportes

  • Saturday, May 6 (Madrid): Live at 11 a.m. on ESPN2 & ESPN Deportes

  • Saturday, May 20 (Berlin - Grand Final): Live at 11 a.m. on ESPN2 & ESPN Deportes