ESPN Commemorates The 25th Anniversary Of “Tournament Challenge”
The NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Basketball Championship Tournaments are fun to forecast, thanks a great deal to the evolution of ESPN's bracket games through the decades
It’s a big week for the ESPN Digital team as ESPN marks the 25th year of Tournament Challenge. Front Row asked Chris Jason, Executive Director of Product Management, who’s been working on ESPN Digital products for more than 16 years and Fantasy games since 2016, to share some insight.
Why is ESPN Tournament Challenge so popular?
It has all the ingredients of a great game with something for everyone. It’s easy to play but also challenging to win. You can play it with friends or join a group with celebrities. If you want to spend the time and analyze every single matchup, we’ve got you covered. But if you want to fill out a bracket quickly at the last minute, we’ve made it so easy you can do it within seconds.
More than anything, it’s exciting, and it can seem like everyone is playing the game. In fact, over the last few years, the TC App has peaked as the No. 1 overall free app in the Apple App Store, ahead of TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram the week of the NCAA Tournament. It also reaches the youngest audience of any of our digital products.
What’s allowed Tournament Challenge to continue to grow and evolve?
It’s part of our culture at ESPN to continuously improve and innovate. The people who work on Tournament Challenge across all parts of the organization are big college basketball fans who are passionate about the product.
For example, back in 2013, engineers on the team were frustrated that they couldn’t easily see how the result of a single game would impact all of the various brackets they filled out, so they built a feature called BracketCast – which is now the Scores tab in the TC App – and it’s become the second most-used feature in the game, behind only actually filling out a bracket.
This year we’ve built a fun new feature called the Perfect Bracket Tracker, which will provide live updates as upsets happen and give fans the ability to see and share the latest count, along with great-looking data visualization.
How has the Women’s Tournament Challenge grown over the years?
First, two years ago, we made it incredibly easy for fans who want to fill out brackets for both the men’s and women’s games by making both available alongside each other in the Tournament Challenge App. That helped to double the number of Women’s Tournament Challenge players in 2021, and we doubled again in 2022. Second, the competitive parity of women’s college basketball has evolved since UConn and Tennessee dominated the sport. Even though South Carolina is really strong this year, many teams can win it all. That certainly makes the sport as a whole more exciting and engaging for fans.