Written by Paul Whybrow
Televising sports has become an amazingly successful programming genre for engaging audiences and leveraging advertising dollars to TV station businesses.
With ever-escalating sports bidding for rights, and the search for the more elusive millennial audience there is certainly room for a new sport that has lower costs and stronger access to attractive audiences.
Introducing the relatively new kid off the block, esports. In 2017 global revenues were $493 million and with estimates of 40% year on year growth by 2021 that is estimated to be $US 1.65 billion: no small industry.
If like me you don’t exactly play games like League of Legends, Call of Duty, Hearthstone or DOTA 2, you may not realise the growth in earnings that professional players are starting to earn.
So here were my 5 top takeouts on esports
1-esports is sport
The biggest debate I have had with my son, who is a natural esports advocate, is whether this is a sport. “Dad, clearly it is,” he says, “we are all playing competitively, there are set rules, you train to improve, and the professionals have coaches just like any sport.” I then try the “well it isn’t physical activity is it?” to which I get the retort “and darts or pool is?” It seems the points that my son and scores of other have make sense, and so I am happy to accept that it is a sport.
2-Viewers are active players not couch potatoes
In one way esports is certainly a very different sport though and that is in the participation access. At school and in your youth you may play sports actively and passionately, and yet as work takes over from study you switch to watching on TV rather than playing. esports is very different, as most people watch the pros so they can learn tricks, tactics and strategies to enhance their own participation. That makes them far from coach potatoes! It also has an amazing capability to allow the spirited and talented amateur to make the riches of the professional team, not by attending the right college or by travelling around the country to participate in team trials, looking for the big break. For the emerging pro teams, they are finding new talent through unknown players, their ability to win online, play well and win well, all potentially from their own bedroom or lounge room, anywhere in the globe.
3- Millennials, Gen Z and Y love it
In the US 38% of 14-21 year olds say they are fans of esports compared to 40% being fans of American football. This research from the Washington Post also found 59% had played multiplayer games online and 58% had watched others play on Twitch You Tube or other platforms. This is a big contrast to the Olympics coverage which as an average age of 58 for viewers and the National Hockey league (NHL) at 44 years. There is lots of evidence that player interest is transferring across to esports participation in the young audiences that traditional Tv is simply not reaching in the same way anymore.
4-Brands have impact
esports could be one of the answers for brands searching desperately for the elusive millennials and younger who frankly have limited interest in the traditional 30 second advertising spot. A brand that can attach authentically to esports has their attention and if the storyline and execution is exciting and highly connected then the impact could be really beneficial to their clients.
5–esports fans enjoy stadiums too
These sports are starting to blend digital, virtual and physical participation. In theory the playing space can be as small as the smallest mobile device right up to the stadium events such as the 173,000 crowd who attended the Extreme Masters Event in Poland. With mega crowds at multiday events there is the potential for investment growth in stadiums and specially fitted centres which will attract passionate fans ready to watch, eat, drink and engage.
In many ways esports could be compared to the natural evolution of sporting codes, to fit the time of their inception and growth. All have the core ingredients of teams, fans, gladiatorial heroes and a growing move to professionalism and business management. Here the digital ingredient gives something that fits the millennial age we live in.
We will know esports is mainstream when you ask a kid what sport they play at school and the answer comes back proudly League of Legends and I made the state finals last year!
Paul Whybrow is the Managing Director and Creative Collaborator for Bodyboard Immersive Experiences – www.bodyboardie.com He writes and presents courses on Creative Leadership for ADMA and AMI.