ESports Experts Weigh In On Growing Opportunities
The advent of Twitch, Azubu and livestreaming over the past three years has helped fuel the explosive growth of eSports, or electronic sports. With companies like Valve (Dota 2), Riot Games (League of Legends), S2 Games (Heroes of Newerth) and Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft 2) offering millions of dollars in prizes with annual tournaments and seasons and full-on leagues like Major League Gaming, Electronic Sports League and others turning pro gamers into cyber athletes; there's a new way to connect with the elusive 18 to 34 year old male gaming demographic.
Back in the Day
"back then people could get away with almost anything. Companies could abuse professional players."
“When I first got involved in esports it was very niche,” said Steven Arhancet, director of eSports at Curse. “Back in those days we were talking thousands of people around the world and we’re joining proxy servers to watch games and download the demos. No one could really get involved. There were lots of small sites, but there was no real viewing for your average user. You had to be quite specialized and involved in the scene. Nowadays thanks to the development of flash streaming anyone can be involved with the click of a button.”
Sam Braithwaite, director of eSports at S2 Games, remembers when eSports prize pools were $15,000 versus the $8 million Riot gave out this year. In the early days there were also issues with actual payments being made on occasion, which left some pros high and dry without social media to reach out to.
“Esports the past couple of years has grown in a professional way where every single person is accountable, including the players and the tournament organizers,” said Braithwaite. “With Twitter, Twitch and Facebook, professional gamers have a huge followings that would have jumped down those companies throats. But back then people could get away with almost anything. Companies could abuse professional players. They could get away with exploiting them and their fame to draw attention, and then stiff them. In terms of the biggest growth I’ve seen with eSports it’s definitely accountability and professionalism.”
Livestreaming Comes of Age
ESports is growing worldwide. The rise of livestreaming has opened up new opportunities for brands to connect with pro gamers during practice sessions. And then there are the huge global events that Major League Gaming, Electronic Sports League, World Cyber Games, League of Legends Championship Series and other big events that happen annually.
Riot Games sold out Staples Center League of Legends Finals as a pivotal moment for eSports. In addition to the 15,000 people who packed the stadium, over 32 million people watched the competition online.
“These events cost a lot of money to put on and can’t happen every week, but what’s really encouraging news is that teams in between events are getting huge numbers as well,” said Paul Kent, COO for Gfinity. “I’m aware of a team in France that’s less than six months old who are getting 9 million uniques per month. Two or three years ago that was unheard of. That’s the most encouraging thing, that people are now associating themselves with the teams and the players rather than just the big events.”
David Miller, vice president of sales and marketing at Azubu, said that the numbers that livestreaming companies like Twitch, Azubu and YouTube are getting today are already on par with traditional broadcast programming or sports content. With eSports growing at a fast clip, what the eSports industry needs to help legitimize it is a watchdog group to offer real concrete numbers like what Nielsen does for TV.
“There are a lot of different numbers that get bounded about like overall views, video on demand views and peek concurrent views,” said Miller. “There’s a lot of work that we all have to do to educate the sector. Video advertising is set to grow to $6 billion by 2017 with annual growth rate of 13 percent year on year between now and then and that’s great news for everyone in eSports.”
Desperately Seeking Gamers
One of the keys is making the “suits” understand the potential of this audience. With companies like Coca Cola, Papa John’s Pizza, American Express and Mazda already involved in eSports, the tide is turning in favor of more money flowing into events. Miller said the fact that Twitch viewers are spending twice the amount of time glued to eSports programming as Hulu’s 55 minute average is also important for advertisers and sponsors interested in connecting with the elusive “gamer” audience.
Simon Bennett, head of eSports, EU, at Wargaming, said that eSports players are integral to the health of the game industry, especially with free-to-play games.
“It was just fans making events and enjoying themselves with other groups of dedicated individuals,” said Bennett. “For free-to-play games like World of Tanks and League of Legends, a fundamental part of the marketing strategy is to utilize eSports. It’s been proven that eSports players are worth a lot more than a normal player because they have such an influence over the community in general that they directly influence the purchase of gold items, skins, characters and other micro-transactions.”
ESports is not a fad
The Internet has eliminated the need for television, and allowed for the live consumption of events with huge engagement. Even practice sessions keeps fans glued to their screens, opening up new ways to connect with a core gamer demographic.