Disney XD's Deep Dive Into eSports


Disney XD's Dive Into eSports (Photo: Nintendo)

Disney XD's Dive Into eSports (Photo: Nintendo)

By Feature Writer: Jordan Fragen

TNL Take:  You can point to Amazon's acquisition of Twitch in 2014 as eSports rapid inflection point. However beyond going to an event in person, the only previous way to watch and support your favorite teams and games was via digital platforms. As we reported last week, the number of eSports programs on TV has tripled in 2017 and brought visibility to a seemingly niche ecosystem.

That’s a huge step forward in itself.


Disney is clearly leading this charge to bring eSports to a wider audience.  In mid-July, Disney XD launched their D|XP programming block along with a partnership with ESL. Described "to connect with gaming enthusiasts of all ages with a core demographic of age 13+",  some of these shows feature stars from Disney owned MCN Maker Studios and its Polaris subnetwork.

However, much of this block has been devoted to eSports.

Disney is bringing in a demographic younger than the traditional audience. In 2016, the average age for eSports TV viewers was 32 - an audience vastly younger than for traditional sports, but definitely not the stated target of young men 18+.  

Herein lies the challenge.

In the last 7 weeks, Disney XD has aired matches from 8 different games and even more tournaments. Let’s take a closer look at each of these games to see what has resonated the most with Disney XD’s younger demographic.

One usual caveat before the analysis: Like any eSports TV data, the sample size is relatively limited to draw definitive conclusions.

TNL Infographic 058: Disney XD's 2017 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

TNL Infographic 058: Disney XD's 2017 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

[Edit: No you're not seeing that wrong. Disney XD has put on 63 eSports/Gaming related programming in the last 2 months. And yes, The Next Level is working on a new way to present this data]



Traditionally Blizzard’s MOBA has struggled to gain audience share on Twitch against Riot Games' League of Legends.  However Heroes of the Storm was the first in the MOBA genre to make a US TV debut and most recently the media rights were acquired by Facebook.


  • Viewership trended downward through the weeks despite viewership peaking on Episode 8 with 137K viewers


/02 EA FIFA 17

Along with a Spanish language feed on ESPN Deportes, Disney XD also aired games from FIFA 17’s Ultimate Team Championship Series. EA has already seen some success airing the Madden Championship Series in both 2016 and 2017, but FIFA has the potential to reach a larger international audience given it’s airing Futbol and not Football. 


  • 70%+ of the audience was outside of the 18-49 age bracket - why was this so low?



Street Fighter is perhaps the most unique case of the bunch. In addition to airing EVO 2017, Disney has partnered with ESL to make ESL Brawlers. The program features a syndicated series of tournaments and highlights some of the game’s post promising talent.


  • The EVO 2017 Finals repeat garnered more viewers than the live event



Splatoon 2 is the second entry into one of Nintendo’s newest IPs. The game’s core mechanic of painting territory to capture makes the action easy to follow visually as I recently witnessed in person and further enhanced by the high quality spectator mode. Despite this franchise being new, it has Nintendo’s full support and is already extremely popular in Japan.

Splatoon 2 is the first game listed in this article that specifically appeals to Disney XD’s stated niche audience of young boys 13+. Given the less realistic nature and it’s vibrant color scheme, this shooter serves as a family friendly introduction to the First Person Shooter genre. 


  • As to be expected, the later timeslots received far fewer viewers than the earlier airings


/05 ARMS

While ARMS itself  is extremely fun to play and easy to learn, it looks rather simplistic which is not a recipe for success when making something that's to be enjoyed by a large audience.


  • Majority of of viewers (73%) were outside of the 18-49 demo as expected



Originally released in Japanese arcades, Pokkén Tournament was a mash up of everyone’s favorite collectible monster franchise with the classic fighting game mechanics of the popular Tekken franchise.

Pokkén Tournament DX, the updated release for Nintendo’s Switch, hopes to remedy many of these problems and fulfill the initial promise of the mashup. And the initial airings point to a positive response from Disney XD’s audience.


  • Pokkén Tournament DX was aired directly after ARMS twice. In these cases, Pokkén Tournament DX had fewer viewers than ARMS, suggesting that the audience did not carry over



It's somewhat shocking to see Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is making an appearance on this list. Until this day, Nintendo has had a rocky relationship with the Smash Bros. community, with its most contentious point in 2013 when Nintendo attempted to prevent EVO from streaming Super Smash Bros. Melee on Twitch.

But Nintendo has begun to change its tone with regards to Smash.

Last year, Melee was given the spotlight on the largest stage in the Fighting Game Community and was aired on ESPN2. However, along with Street Fighter V, Smash 4 was broadcasted on Disney XD. This is a massive change of heart for Nintendo given that Smash is by far the largest eSport with virtually zero support from its publisher.

Without wading into the murky waters of Smash community politics, this decision to change the time slots for Melee and the series newest iteration was not universally well received.

However, from Nintendo’s perspective, the decision was clear.

Smash Bros. for Wii U’s EVO top 8 was the second highest rated eSport on Disney XD and the highest average viewership for any game on the network. When the finals were repeated 2 weeks later, Smash only lost 23% of its audience from its initial live airing.


  • When compared to the average show in the 6pm - 9pm time slot, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U earned 50% more average concurrent viewers. Yes, that’s right - 50%.


So overall, what should you take away from Disney’s first few weeks in eSports?


Let’s start off by comparing the average viewership numbers for all 63 eSports programs aired on Disney XD.

TNL Infographic 059: Disney XD's eSports Programming Comparison (Infographic: The Next Level)

TNL Infographic 059: Disney XD's eSports Programming Comparison (Infographic: The Next Level)

/01 eSports programming has been highly successful on Disney XD, especially Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

/02 The featured game in the eSports program had a greater impact than programming slot

/03 eSports have efficiently drawn in a younger audience. On average, only 26% of the audience falls into the 18-49 age bracket. Based on Disney Xd's demographics, the audience skews below 18.

/04 Generally speaking Nintendo titles outperformed other games. Due to Nintendo’s family friendly nature - it aligns perfectly with Disney XD’s younger audience.


It will be interesting to see if these viewership numbers remain consistent in the Fall when kids are back in school. I would also like to continue to see more family friendly games and eSports as Disney XD could serve as a pipeline for not only mainstream viewership, but to the next generation of eSports fans and stars.

2017 eSports TV Ratings: Disney XD Pulls Ahead With 28 Programs


eSports TV Ratings: Disney XD Pulls Ahead With 28 Programs (Photo: ESL)

eSports TV Ratings: Disney XD Pulls Ahead With 28 Programs (Photo: ESL)

TNL Take: To reiterate one of the main themes of eSports in 2017: the bifurcation and distribution of content across TV and Digital platforms.

By far the biggest increase in TV programming has come from the House of the Mouse: Disney



2017 Disney Networks eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

2017 Disney Networks eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)


After announcing a Gaming programming slate and partnership with ESL, DisneyXD has aired 28 eSports events/programs over the past month.

The Next Level feature writer Jordan Fragen will have an in depth look at Disney XD next week but a few quick points:

  • DisneyXD as released by far the largest amount of eSports related content in a 1 month span
  • The EVO Smash Brothers Finals repeat garnered 80% of the Live Finals viewership - 2 weeks later and with a 9:30PM Sunday time; that's pretty remarkable
  • Interesting to see Disney "share" eSports between ESPN and DisneyXD and allows them to target different advertisers against the same content as the networks have different demographics



2017 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

2017 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)



After debuting with a whopping 4M+ total viewers, Candy Crush has steadily dropped and is about half off its peak, averaging ~2.2M viewers over the past month.

Although Candy Crush has dropped significantly, this past Sunday's ratings doubled last year's 9PM comparison against Madam Secretary.



Rocket League was shown across a few different NBC regional networks (Chicago, Philadelphia, etc.) over the past few weeks and will have a further update once all events have completed.


Currently, eSports TV programming in 2017 has tripled 2016's total and we still have 4+ months left in the year.

2017: eSports, TV and Broadcast Rights

2017: eSports, TV and Broadcast Rights

2017: eSports, TV and Broadcast Rights (Graphic: Julian Burford)

TNL Take: Go ahead and file this away till December but mark my words:

In 2017, eSports TV, broadcast rights and exclusivities will see big growth.

Yesterday we looked the 1st national eSports TV broadcast of the year with ELEAGUE's Counter-Strike Major.

There's been a lot more news over the past 6 weeks.



ESL was on a tear in 2016...

... and 2017 is not slowing them down.

Yesterday, ESL announced a partnership with former creator of Fox Sports David Hill to launch "eSports by Hill" to provide premium broadcast experiences to eSports.

Hill is a Fox veteran having created Fox Sports and regional Sports networks as well as being responsible for the 1st Down yellow line in NFL broadcasts (Win) and the glowing Hockey puck (Fail). Hill also co-produced the 88th Academy Awards and was the executive producer on “The X Factor” and “American Idol.”

While some have commented that Hill was also responsible for the train wreck that was the Championship Gaming Series, that may have also been a case for CGS being too early having launched a decade ago.

Will be interesting to see what Hill brings to ESL in terms of production and casters.



ESL's Counter-Strike Pro League (Photo: ESL)

I told you, ESL is not slowing down.

YouTube Gaming get's Exclusive English broadcast rights for ESL's Counter-Strike Pro League for Seasons 5 and 6.

ESL's Pro League features 28 of the top NA and EU Counter-Strike teams battling for a $1M prize pool per season with the Season 5 Finals held at the Verizon Theatre in Dallas in June. 



GINX eSports TV's "The First Hour" (Photo: GINX eSports TV)

GINX eSports TV, the UK based 24/7 eSports cable and satellite channel, announced that their "The First Hour" show would feature an eSports twist for the new season.

Hosts Adam Savage and Anthony Richardson will chart their first hour of gameplay with AAA releases along with familiar eSports titles and Athletes in the space.

These type of "Let's Play" shows have performed well for YouTuber's but the jury is still our on how this works within eSports. Playing a new game for an hour vs. a popular eSports title are 2 very different things.



Australia's Fetch TV To Launch 24/7 eSports Channel (Photo: Fetch TV)

UK based GINX eSports TV launched in Q4 of 2016 and is already distributed in 40+ countries worldwide.

Now Australia wants in on the action.

Aussie IP-based broadcaster Fetch TV announced the launch of Malaysian-based eGG (Every Good Game) on its platform earlier this month with the first broadcast being the Dota 2 Boston Major which featured 3 Australian eSports Athletes.

In addition to international eSports tournaments, eGG will also feature shows based around gaming culture, reviews, events and talk shows.



ESL Partners With Spanish Broadcaster Movistar (Photo: Movistar)

Spanish telco company Movistar, owned by parent company Telefonica Espana, announced a partnership with ESL to push eSports further in Spain.

The deal is made up of several parts:

  • Movistar and ESL will bring more sponsored amateur and professional competitions with eSports games like  Counter-Strike and League of Legends (the Spanish ESL National Championship previously existed)

  • The company announced their own eSports club Movistar Riders, which will have teams in 5 games - although that seems like a conflict?

  • Movistar will also launch an eSports TV channel to broadcast Spanish eSports events, as well as 13 global events in 2017

  • Additional eSports content will be produced in the new Movistar Gaming Center, which will also act as the physical headquarters for Movistar Riders



Only 1 month down in 2017 and eSports is growing even more quickly than 2016.

Vivendi and Canal Group Partner With ESL


Vivendi and Canal Plus Partner With ESL (Photo: Vivendi)

TNL Take: Someone on the ESL Business Development team has been pretty busy.

Over the past six weeks, ESL has signed a partnership deal with Yahoo eSports, a five-year African TV distribution deal; and now ESL’s next strategic deal is with France’s Vivendi and Canal Group Media groups.

From a Media and eSports investment side, this follows on the French Media deal last week with Webedia buying ESWC and other assets, Spanish Media company Mediapro buying an eSports League and Ginx TV receiving $4M from Sky TV/ITV.

Just follow the eSports money.

Let’s look at the various components of this deal:



ESL Championnat National (Photo: ESL)

The partnership provides for the launch of the first official eSports League based around the ESL's existing Championnat National.

But here’s the catch: What games involved are still TBD.




This is the bigger part of the deal.

CANAL Group will get to use the partnership to distribute eSports content across it's Channels, subsidiaries and outlets.



Game Fever eSports Documentary (Photo: Canal Group)

CANAL Group has also announced the launch of the Canal eSports Club, a new TV show as well as a special documentary called Game Fever, which will be broadcast in Prime Time in October.



Vivendi Companies (Photo: Vivendi)

Vivendi will also support eSports the via its subsidiaries, Universal Music Group and video streaming site Dailymotion - hint, hint - and live events such as L’Olympia and Digitick.



Vivendi Gaming Assets Ubisoft and Gameloft (Photo: Vivendi)

Vivendi currently owns top mobile Gaming publisher Gameloft and a majority stake in Ubisoft.

While Gameloft has seen limited eSports involvement, Ubisoft is starting to increase their presence with the ESL Rainbow Six Pro League.

Don’t be shocked if an Ubisoft title becomes part of the official French league.



Team Vitality Sponsored by CANAL (Photo: Team Vitality)

CANAL Plus is also a Sponsor of French eSports squad Team Vitality.

You can easily see integration of their content across the touch points above as well.


Nicely done ESL team - now gimme a week off.