Considering the way that the esports industry has established its legitimacy over the past few years as well as the boom caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it makes sense that there’d be an increased need for news coverage concerning all things esports. Indeed, over the past couple of months, developments in the esports realm have been given the same attention previously reserved for the traditional sports industry. However, in a move counter to this uptick in esports coverage, ESPN—arguably the biggest name in sporting news—has decided to end operations of their esports editorial team.
Although it has seemed as though the esports industry is one of the few industries for which the Covid-19 pandemic has had a positive impact, that apparently doesn’t apply to the journalistic side of things. An article from The Esports Observer reports that the negative economic impact of the Coronavirus outbreak is behind their decision to cease operations of their Esports Editorial team. It would seem as though employees of ESPN’s esports division aren’t the only ones being let go, however. Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s chairman, says that in order to “weather the COVID storm” they will have to cut 10% of their current workforce, which comes to approximately 500 jobs.
Even before the decision to eliminate the esports division was officially made, the department was apparently facing some cutbacks. According to the The Esports Observer piece, “the esports division was already seeing some line-item budget cuts in areas such as freelance as writers were told that the division would be using syndicated content from Reuters for the majority of its news coverage.” Now however, entire positions have been eliminated. One such position was the one belonging to Jacob Wolf. Wolf, an award-winning esports journalist, was probably most well-known for his breaking stories, affectionately referred to as “Wolf Bombs.” He, along with his colleagues, will officially be done with their positions at ESPN as of this upcoming January.
In a Tweet pinned to his Twitter profile, Wolf has made it clear that he will “be making my full-time job decision come a couple weeks before Christmas. Going to assess all the options I have in front of me and a few that may still come to fruition before making a decision. I’m in no rush.” As for his former employer, it would appear that their esports coverage will be handled by their general news staff. An ESPN representative told The Esports Observer “we’ll continue to [cover esports] through coverage from the broader team for major events, breaking news and coverage.”
The most surprising element of ESPN’s decision would have to be the fact that their previous business decisions led folks to believe that they were investing in their esports programming, not preparing to end it. From ESPN-produced/facilitated esports events and tournaments to upcoming scheduled broadcasts, only time will tell how ESPN will be able to fare in the esports realm without their designated team.