Gone are the days of the lonely gamer shut away in his bedroom. Professional gaming, or eSports, has gone mainstream and it is about to shake up traditional programming.
A recent report by Newzoo reveals that the value of the eSports industry in 2016 is nearly half a billion dollars and that number is expected to soar to over a billion by 2019.
At day one of TV and digital content event MIPTV in Cannes, Laurence Jones, commercial director at Endemol Shine Group, called it a “natural evolution” that comes from a rise in gaming.
Basketball and football went through a similar kind of evolution when they were turning professional; the difference – according to James Glassock from Machinima – is that eSports are “moving even faster”. In 2015 the League of Legends World Championship final topped 36 million unique viewers and at the beginning of this year ESPN, self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, launched a new vertical dedicated to professional gaming – if that’s not a sign of going mainstream then what is?
Of course it is still a long way from the magnitude and wealth of some traditional sports. Current conservative estimates put revenue at $3.5 per year for each eSports fan, that’s compared with $15 per fan for the NBA and an astronomical $60 for the NFL. But it obviously has the potential to skyrocket now that some of the major players are getting involved.
Maybe one reason it’s taken a while for traditional media to get involved is the longstanding view that eSports only interest die hard gamers but Peter Warman , CEO of Newzoo rebuffed that myth saying, “40 percent of people that watch eSports do not play the game”.
What’s in it for mainstream media?
Well putting aside the fact that content creation is cheap; the passionate audience is in itself hugely desirable. This young, predominately male (although increasingly female) demographic is hard to reach through traditional TV, yet – contrary to common belief – the average eSports enthusiast is employed full-time, is a high earner and a big digital spender. It’s a goldmine for advertisers.
Endemol’s Laurence Jones gave the MIPTV crowd his personal view: “[eSports] are better than football, there’s constant action, no stops for penalties or injuries… and you don’t have to abide by the laws of physics”. But he also outlined one of the big hurdles that still remains for traditional media – storytelling. “Broadcasters need to think about how they are going to tell the story, it’s a challenge… but it’s exciting”.