Dec 14th, 2018, 03:00 PM

Esports and Why it's Already the Next Big Thing

By Sami Claire
ESport conference. Image credit: Major League Gaming
Millions tune in to watch competitive video games.

ESports is a hybrid between video games and sports, where players compete online from all over the world in different games such as Fortnite, Counter-Strike, League of Legends, and more. Similar to televised sports, these gamers are watched and followed by millions of fans all over the world, who attend live events or tune in on TV or online on platforms like Twitch.tv, to watch their favorite gamers and teams compete. Competitive gaming (eSports) has become just as much of a sport as football, basketball, and other broadcasted sports. However, eSports can be traced back to the 1970s but has recently boomed into a worldwide phenomenon due to the increased availability of online games and platforms that connect people around the world via games.

 

ESports audience statistics. Image credit: Newzoo

The first eSports event occurred in October of 1972 at Stanford University where students competed playing the video game Spacewar! Yet it took another eight years for the first formal video game competition to be held, with almost 10,000 participants, which raised widespread media attention. During the 80s, video game developers began posting high-scores, which were then published in the Guinness Book of World Records. The 1990s gave rise to the Internet, which allowed gamers from all over the world to compete online. The Internet also gave rise to PC games and companies such as Nintendo and Blockbuster began sponsoring video game world championships. The very first, "official" eSport tournament was in held in 1997, and was centered around a game titled "Quake".

The tournament attracted about 2000 participants and the grand winner got to drive off in John Cormack's (the lead developer of Quake) Ferrari. The rise in eSports competitions, the internet and technology led gaming developers to create more games and expand opportunities for gamers around the world to connect and play against each other. In 2017, the total eSports money awarded after combining the 3,765 tournaments held, amounted to $110.6 million. The eSports industry is projected to accrue $1.5 billion in revenue in 2020, and its growth is expected to rise exponentially. Due to this, people in sports, marketing, entertainment or business should pay close attention to this worldwide phenomenon.

Spacewar Game Home Screen. Image Credit: Sami Claire/YouTube

Although the initial concept of eSports is to connect gamers from around the world to enter tournaments and compete with one another, it is also a platform for brands and companies to sponsor these tournaments and promote their products. According to Forbes, “for marketers, the most important and differentiated aspect of it might be something else: eSports and live streaming, in general, are co-creation experiences.” This experience is made possible through Twitch.tv, which allows players to stream their gaming and viewers to witness the broadcaster focused on the game, seeing their reactions, answering viewers questions, making suggestions, and discussing their process and decision-making during gameplay.

This dialogue allows gamers to not experience gaming as a solitary experience. According to Deloitte, “in just one week in June 2018, viewers on Twitch spent 17.7 million hours watching players compete in League of Legends matches. The overall numbers of eSports viewers and hours are large and growing, raising the stakes for businesses looking to get involved either in front of or behind all those screens.” Companies such as Coca-Cola, Taco Bell, Intel, Red Bull, and ESPN all sponsor these tournaments and gamers by providing money, food, resources, and supports to these gaming aficionados. Embracing the opportunities and challenges in eSports can help businesses evolve with the audience and transform their traditional practices to mimic the interactive and immersive experience that is eSports. Therefore, eSports has a lot of potential benefits not just for gamers but also for the companies that sponsor these gaming experiences.

Revenue streams statistics. Image credit: Newzoo

Overall, eSports has a lot of potential not just for gamers but also for brand and companies. In the rapidly evolving eSports landscape, companies in media, entertainment, and professional sports have an opportunity to access a valuable global audience. By building these relationships and connections, companies can unlock advertising potential, develop new entertainment and hospitality offerings, and empower their franchises to grow in the modern media environment. Additionally, it will allow businesses the opportunity to capitalize on this rapid shift in media and sport that’s being shaped by social entertainment, live streaming, and high-intensity competition in digital worlds. Of course, this can only be achieved by companies demonstrating their own niche and passion for eSports and digital gaming. It is one thing to sponsor these events, but gamers are privy to false pretenses. Companies must enter this digital space with a co-creating mindset that supports online gamers and creates a more inclusive global future of interactive and immersive entertainment.