The industry is aiming to take advantage of the postponements in traditional sports
Several esports figures are looking at the cancellation of traditional sports events worldwide as an opportunity for the industry.
With high profile live sport on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, a sport that can largely be played online is one of very few still able to broadcast new content to viewers. This has seen traditional sports try to become involved and numbers of streaming viewers rise – for example when Formula One drivers took part in esports events in lieu of the Australian Grand Prix.
Figures involved across the sport, including ESL UK CEO James Dean, Blast Premier vice president of distribution Alexander Lewin, NRG Esports owner Andy Miller, and Gravity Media sales manager Edward Dowdall all believe that the sector now has an opportunity to take advantage of.
However, first the esports business is having to take measures to slow the spread of Covid-19. For example, audience events have had to be changed or cancelled, remote working has had to be brought in, and new plans created to make sure that content can reach viewers.
Lewin revealed that Blast is confident of dealing with this situation: “Our shifting day-to-day operations to being remote is seamless. For event planning, we’ve put several options in place that factor in travel and crowd sizes to allow us to deliver Blast Premier as scheduled.”
Dean added on ESL’s current plans, which have included cancelling live events: “Generally, our workforce is currently working from home where possible. We have broadcast facilities dotted around the world too, so it’s possible to remove the necessity of international travel, and in some cases remote broadcast feeds are being taken from onscreen talent remotely from their homes or private offices.”
Commercial and day-to-day effects
Dean is convinced by ESL and esports’ ability to continue bringing in revenue despite the difficulties that business is going through with the situation. However, there are some problems with making sure that competitors have an equal playing field.
He stated: “Esports has a very fortunate advantage of being able to be played online. However, some of the more established and larger tournaments and circuits we operate benefit from a level of additional integrity to the tournament by being in a physical environment.”
“This is not just the ability to absolutely be 100% sure there is no cheating, but it also provides a level playing field for the players in terms of latency to the game servers – which are important for their millisecond reaction times all having the same effect. Therefore, some of the tournaments and circuits have been postponed, and instead we will play out an online tournament for similar or slightly lower prize pools.”
He continued on the commercial effects: “On a commercial front, physical events are important for sponsors and partners to gain visibility for their brand, products and services, and a lot of business tends to be done over the weekend during the live action in our business lounges and hospitality areas.”
“There will of course be lost revenue in ticket, merchandise and local activation sales. However, the majority of revenue comes from sponsorship and advertising around the live content produced, and largely this will actually remain. Viewership in esports has almost doubled in recent weeks for some tournaments, most likely due to more of the global population having to stay at home and being off school, college or university, and the simple lack of other competitive live entertainment available right now.”
Edward Dowdall, sales manager at Gravity Media, added: “Popularity predominantly through online-only means through the likes of Twitch, Mixer, Facebook Gaming & YouTube Gaming there are lucrative opportunities for the streaming creators. The collaborative community spirit & throwback to grass roots mentality has certainly been more prevalent – leading to greater number of hours consumed and concurrent peak viewership.”
Can esports take advantage?
One thing that everyone agrees on is that this is a huge opportunity for esports – and one that has already seen viewership spike.
Lewin said: “The postponement of so many sporting and entertainment events in 2020 has been a major blow to a global fanbase, and has created programming gaps for TV broadcasters, which leads to an increased buyer demand for high-quality programming with a global audience.”
“Adding to this, the recent spike in esports viewership caused by people staying at home means it’s natural that even more TV buyers are turning to esports to entertain their audience.”
Dean concurs: “Apart from the obvious advantage of being able to continue to run competition to a certain capacity, esports of course runs in an entirely virtual sphere for a very tech orientated audience. Therefore the ability to maintain a heightened level of audience engagement through technology is still entirely possible.”
Dowdall adds: “No doubt the appetite for in-arena & studio content creation will reboot & potentially explode as people now have the time to fully explore the digital opportunities esports presents as a form of entertainment & engagement for all backgrounds, sporting interests & backgrounds, cultures & ages.”
In addition, NRG Esports owner Andy Miller has said publicly: “No doubt we’ll see a big rise in Twitch, Youtube, Mixer, Facebook, gaming content. Livestreaming and our matches will be much more fan-friendly in terms of time and ability to watch. Just in our own content on Youtube and other platforms we’ve seen significant view jumps as people look for entertainment.”
Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute’s Center for Regional Economics, is an independent observer of the entertainment industry who backs the esports’ view: “Esports has the potential to fill a programming gap through having a combination of established leagues, followings, and infrastructure.”
“In many ways, it will be able to implement the strategy that the NBA and others had contemplated; empty stadiums without fans, and broadcasting games regardless. Even though many Esports leagues have encouraged and developed live venues, they will be able to adapt and function without them and provide a steady source of content and income even under the current restrictions.”
All this could point to esports being one business to look out for over the next few months.