Broadcasters will play a significant role in diversifying eSports’ predominately young, male audience even further, by making eSports formats more accessible, which in turn will encourage a more diverse mix people to join the trend
Curt MarvisCurt Marvis is chief executive and co-founder of QYOU Media. He previously served as Lionsgate’s president of digital media.
Over the last two years eSports has moved from an armchair activity to a global phenomenon, in part driven by broadcasters such as the BBC, OSN, SporTV and Super Channel. Taking the sport from its online origins to a TV format, has helped catapult the genre into the mainstream, earning its reputation as the world’s fastest-growing sport. In 2018, there are expected to be 380 million people around the world watching eSports content, up 13.5 per cent from 2017.
The eSports trend blew up online via streaming platforms such as Twitch. Initially, the format didn’t lift easily to a broadcast format because the tournaments typically last several hours without pause, and are focused on complex games such as League of Legends and Starcraft II. To enable broadcasters to increase the genre’s viewership among global TV audiences, eSports has had to undergo some changes to make it more TV-friendly.
One of the ways eSports has become more accessible is through games such as Street Fighter and Rocket League. These games have been adopted by the likes of NBC Sports in USA and BBC Three in the UK, because they are easy to understand and can be condensed into shorter time-frames.
As the eSports genre continues to drive engagement from TV audiences, it’s likely we will see more traditional sports leagues develop eSports offerings
As the eSports genre continues to drive engagement from TV audiences, it’s likely we will see more traditional sports leagues develop eSports offerings. World-renowned sports organizations EA Sports FIFA and the NBA have already thrown their hats into the ring, helping to drive the genre’s growth outside of the hardcore eSports fanbase. Introducing gaming that features popular sports - such as soccer and basketball - has made the format more globally relevant.
Traditional sports such as soccer and basketball resonate with mainstream audiences because fans are able to follow a team or player’s journey and form an attachment to them. For example, during the 2016 Uefa European Championships, the Icelandic team surprised many fans by knocking England out of the competition. During the 2018 Fifa World Cup there’s been a renewed interest in Iceland because of the team’s story: it’s the first time the country has qualified for the tournament, it’s the smallest nation to ever qualify for a major sporting tournament, and the team’s coach is a part-time dentist.
The same storytelling techniques that amplify the human aspect of a sports team or player can be applied to eSports in order to build an emotional connection with fans. There are plenty of eSports teams and players that have a unique story with an appealing human interest angle. The most prominent example is Sumail ‘Suma1L’ Hassan who started playing DOTA aged eight and became the youngest gamer to surpass $1 million in eSports earnings. These are the kinds of stories that broadcasters can tell to encourage international TV audiences to root for teams and players.
There’s an opportunity for broadcasters to adapt these bite-sized formats from online and bring them to TV audiences
To build this level of engagement, broadcasters can create compelling eSports stories by using short-form video. The genre is hugely popular among millennial and generation-Z audiences who have grown up on a steady diet of social video through platforms such as YouTube, Daily Motion and Vimeo. As well as streaming entire games, platforms such as Twitch also host highlights shows featuring short clips of the very best action from the latest matches. There’s an opportunity for broadcasters to adapt these bite-sized formats from online and bring them to TV audiences.
Super Channel’s GINX Esports TV Canada is a great example of how broadcasters can use short-form video content to broaden the genre’s appeal. GINX Esports TV Canada, an entire channel build around eSports, wanted a show that would appeal to a mainstream audience. As a result, it licensed Heads Up Daily (HUD), a daily show of curated eSports content, to enable TV audiences to build an affinity for some of the most prominent personalities in the world of advanced competitive gaming.
HUD brings together hosts and a changing line-up of guests – from eSports professionals to game developers to popular streamers on YouTube and Twitch – for tournament recaps, eSports top plays, hot topics and upcoming event previews. Through HUD, Super Channel have found a way to build exciting stories around eSports players and developers, without the audience needing in-depth knowledge of online gaming.
Recent research from Nielsen found that seven out of 10 eSports fans are millennial males and will stream the genre more than their female counterparts
As eSports continues to gain mainstream momentum on TV, it will also broaden its core demographic. ESports is popular among younger audiences, but it’s dominated by male viewers, players and developers. Recent research from Nielsen found that seven out of 10 eSports fans are millennial males and will stream the genre more than their female counterparts. While there are female players in eSports, such as Team Expert's Sasha ‘Scarlett’ Hostyn and Kim ‘Geguri’ Se-Yeon (who is the Overwatch league’s first female player), they are still very much a minority.
Broadcasters will play a significant role in diversifying eSports’ predominately young, male audience even further, by making eSports formats more accessible, which in turn will encourage a more diverse mix people to join the trend, whether it’s as a player, developer or viewer.
We’re in the middle of an exciting period of transformation for eSports. The trend has even evolved far enough for eSports be included in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou. Broadcasters will play an important role in its future, driving its relevancy by ensuring the games and formats are compatible with the tastes of TV audiences.
As interest in eSports continues to grow, we expect the genre to move up a league and become recognized as a serious competitive discipline in its own right.