The future of sport and the Olympic movement is headed in the direction of sharing its world with esports. The IOC together with the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) hosted an eSports Forum at The Olympic Museum in Lausanne on 21 July. The focus of the forum was building dialogue between all sides – in understanding the role of esports in sport, and in turn on how the future of sports reporting will look. As the international body of sports press, AIPS is preparing a series of articles and discussions on the role of esports. The fourth voice will be that of Dominic Sacco, a British eSports Journalist.
LAUSANNE, November 5, 2018 – What is it like to cover Esports and how different is it from covering traditional sports? AIPS asked Dominic Sacco, a journalist with a long track record in the eSports industry. Sacco grew up with video games and quickly gravitated towards following competitive gaming, with Street Fighter and Bomberman among his favourite games. As magazines declined and the internet shot up, Sacco, who graduated with a journalism degree from Bournemouth University, was determined to write about video games. At MCV, a games weekly, he quickly rose through the ranks and three years ago he set up www.esports-news.co.uk, covering the UK sports scene.
What is it like to cover Esports on a daily basis?
It is a challenge. It is exciting, but fast-moving. News breaks so fast and brands and companies can communicate to their fans, customers and audience so quickly. The journalist’s role has shifted away from news announcements – yes, you can get exclusives – to comment, opinion and interview pieces. That’s content the audience won’t get from brands. You have to be on the ball. The community is very passionate and loyal. They will let you know if you get anything wrong and criticise you. You have to be accurate and very fast.
Those challenges sound quite similar to the ones faced by traditional sports journalists.
Yes, there are a lot of similarities between eSports journalism and traditional sports journalism. You have got players, contracts, teams, different tournaments, but there are some big differences as well. Traditional sports have become regimented. FIFA and other associations control a lot whereas eSports are more underdeveloped. We still have a lot of people vying for control of this space. Esports is very community-focused and there is a similarity to be pointed out: traditional sports have seen an influx of fan-journalists in the last few years, like Arsenal TV, Full Time Devils, etc. In eSports, if you produce good enough content you can create your own platform and make a name for yourself. These fan channels in sports have shown that. It has made big broadcasters and media take notice. A lot of eSports journalism is video-based. The eSports audience loves video content, but I still think there is space for written content.
You take a more traditional, written approach. Does that make your job harder?
Yes and no. A lot of eSports fans prefer to watch short, snappy videos and also the in-depth videos. A lot of stories that are on Reddit, Twitter and Youtube haven’t been written about, so a lot of these stories are promoted for a day or two, but then there is no archive. Writing them up creates a nice archive.
What is like to cover an actual eSports event? How different is it from the press box, press conference and mixed zone routine in traditional sports journalism.
I was at the FIFA eWorld Cup final in London. There are similarities: you have a press pass, usually a press area as well, other times you will be in the general industry of VIP area or even with normal fans, which is good. You watch the matches, you often have interview opportunities. The FIFA eWorld Cup final had a nice press conference with Spencer Ealing, last year’s world champion from Britain. Events are good to go to – the nature of journalism today is getting on the news turn and working from an office and grinding it out. It is so good to visit the event. You get more of an informed opinion and can add color to your piece. You are there, you are soaking up the atmosphere and you build contacts. I encourage sports journalists, who haven’t done much eSports in the past, to give it a go, maybe do an introductory piece – this was my first eSports event, what I thought of it and how it compared to more traditional sports events. eSports is only getting bigger and traditional sports publications have to be aware of that and not let it pass them by.
Dominic Sacco runs a website dedicated to eSports in the UK. (Photo by Dominic Sacco)
At eSports events how is the access to the athletes in general?
In general you do have better access as an eSports journalist. For example, I was at the League of Legends World Championship quarter-finals in London three years ago and we had access to the best players in the world after each match. I had access and my website had only just launched. That is changing a little bit as eSports grow. It can be a little bit harder. If you reach out to the players directly, a lot of them are willing to talk and very quick to respond.
How do you see the future of Esports journalism?
If you look at the trends of the last few years, it is a little bit fragmented. It is, like eSports at a smaller level, a little bit volatile as well. Yahoo launched Yahoo eSports and they disappeared after a year or so. Last year the Daily Mail launched an eSports section and hired two great journalists and about a month or two ago they just closed it. That was really disappointing. They had done a really good job. The decision to close the eSports arm was really financial I think, but you ‘d think that a newspaper with the Daily Mail’s name and backing would be able to sustain two journalists through sponsorships and things like that. It’s still an experimental space, but you will see more big publishers, like ESPN, come in and try to make their mark on it. We will see more fragmentation, more volatility and more interest from bigger publications, but there are also a lot of opportunities for smaller websites, like mine, to put their stamp on the Esports scene and carve out their own niche.
The entire industry is growing. In September the Premier League announced the ePremier League.
I think it’s the biggest development in UK Esports. With the backing and the cloud of the Premier League and the money, that can be huge. Arsenal, Manchester United and these clubs will have eSports players and they may have an eSports department. They will be having events and social media, and activities. They have such reach these clubs: it will help raise the awareness and normalize eSports. There is still a bit of a stigma in the mainstream that video games are not a serious activity or can’t offer careers