Yesterday, Blizzard Entertainment announced it would purchase IGN ProLeague assets. In addition, the Warcraft studio revealed it had brought on some of the team to form a new Blizzard studio in San Francisco, California, focused on content production.
To get a better sense of how the deal came to be, what it means, and more, GameSpot spoke with IGN co-founder Peer Schneider.
How did the deal with Blizzard get done?
There were multiple interested parties. If you look at the IPL business in the past, when we started in 2011, we basically started it as a startup within IGN; the market looked really different. Publishers have started to launch their own leagues, push them more, and it really made sense to partner with one of the players at the table. Blizzard with Starcraft of course has been paying attention to IPL, and were really interested in the team and live streaming capabilities.
How long had Blizzard and IGN been talking with each other to get this deal done?
Shortly after we were acquired by Ziff Davis in February, our new CEO said that we were actively engaged with parties interested in acquiring IPL. We've been working on finding the best home for the team since then.
How much was IPL sold for?
Unfortunately, neither side will be disclosing any numbers surrounding the deal.
Considering how successful the IPL events have become, why not keep the brand?
If you look at the asset transfer, Blizzard is picking up the team and the technology associated with it. We are committed to covering competitive gaming and broadcast events in the future, so you never know what you're going to see from us. The idea behind IPL and what it stood for over the last two years doesn't make sense in our current focus area.
"The idea behind IPL and what it stood for over the last two years doesn't make sense in our current focus area."
With the acquisition by Ziff Davis, we really wanted to focus in on our core media business. We've got a pretty good thing going when it comes to audience growth that we can afford to take a step back and really kind of focus on the stuff that we kicked off 16 years ago and have really grown over the past decade plus.
The core of what IPL did…it wasn't just about broadcasting eSports matches, something I'd love to continue doing, and it was basically an events business. At this time it doesn't really make sense for us to be in the events business.
I've heard that the traffic to IGN for IPL events is as much as or more than larger-industry events such as E3. Did this not give enough incentive to keep it around?
Well, those are peak numbers. You can sell any day of the year at a certain rate, when all the views are focused within a certain time period, from a media business perspective. It's very difficult to do that over an extended time frame, an entire year. Obviously IPL was successful from a traffic standpoint; lots of people tuning in for live streams, definitely at those E3 event levels. The question for our business is, 'Do we want a business that organizes events?' We are covering E3, sending our team, covering the event, but we wouldn't run our own E3.
Blizzard says in its press release that it will be using most of the employees for content production. Was there any thought of stripping away the event side from IPL and having these guys do similar content?
For us, that would have meant walking away from a big portion of what those guys do. We already have a large content staff, probably one of the biggest editorial and video teams in games media. It would have been difficult to support a team of that size just covering eSports online. They are definitely an event-focused outfit the way they were.
There's also the other factor: We are not a company that creates video games. We are not the folks behind Starcraft, and with a lot of the rights and with a lot of the activity around these games being owned by the publishers themselves, it would have gotten more complicated over time to run a league that is specific to certain games.
ESPN covers the NFL, but ESPN doesn't run the NFL.
Yeah, that's the same approach that we take here at GameSpot.
Yeah you guys at GameSpot have taken that approach when covering eSports. When we embarked on our IPL experiment, there really wasn't a league that did events quite the same way as the IPL did. I'm really happy this experiment happened; we learned a ton over the last two years.
Will any of the current IPL employees head to IGN?
No, they will not.
There is a statement at the end of the IGN release that states "IGN will partner with multiple eSports organizations to cover their events in the future rather than focusing on a few key titles." Can you give some more information on what this means?
Our approach may be a little bit different. I don't know what the future will bring. We have a very busy year ahead of ourselves just with the new console cycle. Our IPL events have shown there's a huge audience that will come online and watch eSports events. You can definitely expect more from us on that front. What form specifically will our eSports coverage be for the future? I can't tell you yet.
Will we see any editors picked up full-time to do eSports coverage, or the main IGN editorial team sent out to cover eSports events?
We definitely believe in bringing on experts for the respective beats and use a mix of in-house employees and a network of freelancers for all of our coverage. We're in the middle of reorganizing our editorial team, so we don't have all the answers ready quite yet. The rise of gaming megafranchises--some of which are defined by their competitive gaming aspects--necessitates a different approach on how we cover those games and the culture that surrounds them. But in the short term, we're definitely more focused on broadcasting events and video distribution than, say, creating 360-degree news coverage of eSports in general. I think IPL nailed the events side--but the proper way to "cover" eSports will take some time to figure out. It's an exciting, growing category--but it's also very different from traditional console or PC gaming news and may need some unique solutions that involve the community above all.