eSports are big business, so big that huge traditional sports companies are seeking to get involved.
Manchester United, who I’m told are one of the biggest football teams in the world, are reportedly looking to buy a professional Overwatch team, and are engaged in competition with a more traditional eSports organisation for the rights. As eSports News UK reports, while Manchester United’s net worth far outstrips that of its competitor Fnatic, that ‘established eSports brand’ is no slouch when it comes to money either, with a net worth said to be around £30 million.
It’s a sure sign that there’s big sums involved with this new type of spectator sport, and more well-established media brands are jumping in with both feet. Last year the BBC joined the likes of Twitch and YouTube in livestreaming the League of Legends World Championship, and VICE have covered eSports many times to varying degrees of accuracy. Russia, too, is about to recognise eSports on its official register of sports.
At the beginning of this year, ESPN began taking the phenomenon seriously, and this VentureBeat article from the time explains why:
“The LCS (League Championship Series) had an average concurrent viewership of 4.2 million through its final event. That peaked at 14 million at one point. These are massive numbers that compare favorably to the playoffs for traditional sports like NCAA basketball, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association.”
There’s also been a recent realisation that broadcasting eSports tournaments on television offers certain advantages for sponsors over livestreaming, as the eSports Marketing Blog explains:
“More prominent than the raw number of impressions is how well HD broadcasts relayed logo visibility, as compared to online streams. Without the requirement of capturing an entire field, or court, for the duration of play, eSports broadcasts portray sponsor connection with its athletes in a more intimate fashion.”
Market research firm Newzoo found that audiences watched a combined total of 807.3 million hours of eSports ‘league and event content’ on Twitch.tv alone:
So when Major League Gaming (MLG) only accounted for 5 percent of the total, but was worth around $46 million of Activision Blizzard’s money earlier this year, you begin to get a sense of the astronomical amounts of money involved.
Additionally, as the above image demonstrates, Newzoo terms ‘eSports’ as any video content from a professionally organised esports tournament. Since eSports only accounted for between 14 and 31 percent of the total viewing time on Twitch during that time, the remainder was largely made up of audiences watching individual streamers rather than pro tournaments.
That works in Twitch’s favour, as its CRO Jonathan Simpson-Bint told us last year: The increased amount of user interaction on individual streams leads to higher engagement, keeping that audience on Twitch’s platform even when the big money tournaments aren’t playing.
Despite those huge numbers, I guarantee there’s a proportion of TheMediaBriefing’s audience who are still sceptical about eSports, both as an idea and as a source of revenue.
To the former contingent, the people who ask ‘why would anyone want to watch someone play a video game?’, consider that celebrities like PewDiePie make tens of millions of dollars through advertising doing just that. Though you can argue the semantics, there’s really no tangible difference between eSports and more traditional sports when it comes to being a spectator event.
And to the latter, the people asking how eSports will ever generate much revenue, consider those above audience figures. That’s a huge and highly engaged group of people. To paraphrase Field of Dreams, “if you build it, advertisers will come.”
Image courtesy of Sam Churchill via Flickr used under a Creative Commons license.