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Why Blizzard's Streaming Deal With Facebook Is Great For The Future Of Esports

Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm continues its trend of marching to the beat of its own drum in the MOBA space by announcing a partnership with Facebook Live for its Heroes of the Dorm event. Is this a sign of things to come?

Blizzard Entertainment made history in 2015 when the finals of its collegiate Heroes of the Storm (HotS) tournament, cleverly titled "Heroes of the Dorm," became the first major esports to be live broadcasted on a major television network (ESPN2). Since then, HotS esports has managed to endure the test of time despite the dominance of MOBA giants League of Legends and Dota 2 through an emphasis on unique battlegrounds, a faster and more straightforward progression system, and a hero roster that relies on the strength of Blizzard's decades-long brand recognition. The HotS esports team is continuing its differentiation strategy into 2017 through the announcement of an exclusive partnership with Facebook Live for this year's Heroes of the Storm broadcasts.

This isn't the first time Blizzard and Facebook have teamed up - you may recall the somewhat low-key rollout of Facebook Live integration into Battle.net back in August 2016 - but this latest development represents a firm step forward into the esports broadcasting space, in which Twitch has reigned supreme for years. In this writer's humble opinion, this deal could very well be the beginning of a sea change for the esports industry.

Esports has never had as much mindshare and cashflow as it does today, yet it lacks the structure, governing bodies, and backing of major television networks to allow it to grow into the traditional sports counterpart that we all know and dream it will eventually become. For all its success, Twitch is a niche media platform for and by gamers - it is not a household name outside of this sphere of influence. Facebook, on the other hand, is one of the most pervasive brands in the entire world and thus has a greater chance at pushing esports into the mainstream.

Blizzard's exclusive streaming deal with Facebook is essentially a mutually-beneficial "blue ocean strategy," wherein a business chooses to create its own uncontested market space rather than taking on its competitors directly in established arenas (the best known example in the gaming industry is Nintendo's foray into motion controls and casual gaming with the Wii console). Both companies have the financial muscle and production values to push truly compelling content to the masses and attract new esports consumers, whereas Twitch is mostly confined to its niche audience.

Even if this partnership does not lead to the glorious new era of esports that I'm envisioning, I still believe that it is very good for the industry moving forward. Facebook entering the game streaming market should introduce a much-needed sense of competition among the existing platforms, and competition inevitably leads to innovation and quality of life improvements for viewers and content creators. And that is exactly what needs to happen if we want to see games like Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends, CS:GO, and Street Fighter reach the same heights as baseball, basketball, football, and soccer.

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