Over the last year, my team and I have been paying very close attention to the rapid rise of eSports. What we define as competitive electronic gaming, the growth of eSports continually astounds us with each new press article and announcement. Globally, eSports is huge and is comparable both in metrics and structure to more established sports. In 2015, eSports events had a global viewing audience of 150M and all indicators point to continued growth. In terms of attendance, the largest eSports event – the Intel Extreme Masters – had attendances of over 100,000 in 2015. Participation globally is estimated at 32M. Dedicated eSports stadiums are popping up all over the world, from China to the UK, and investment in all facets of the eSports industry continues to snowball.
These statistical soundbites are all very interesting but Gemba wanted to go beyond the global industry headlines, to speak to the people at the cutting edge of eSports and ultimately reach an informed opinion on the present and immediate future of the Australian industry. We’ve met with eSports rights holders (game publishers) and broadcasters, we’ve run focus groups with eSports fanatics and we’ve spoken to brands that are already capitalising on the sport. All of this work culminated in an industry breakfast that we held late last week called the Going to Gemba ‘eSports Level Up’ which we hosted alongside Riot Games (makers of the #1 eSports game in the world – League of Legends) and Twitch (the leading social platform for gamers).
Whilst we can’t summarise the whole session in a blog post, there are two key points that I’ll share. The first is around the high passion and engagement of the eSports audience. Our proprietary research shows that there are 1.5M eSport fanatics in Australia (fans that are highly passionate about the sport) who are mostly young males. To put this in perspective, this audience is over a third the size of cricket which records the highest sport passion levels in Australia with 4.3M fanatics. To put it another way, passion for eSports is equal in size to sports like netball!
These are perhaps surprising statistics but what is even more interesting is how engaged this audience is in their passion. eSports is consumed far more on digital platforms than any other leading sport in the country. 57% of Australian eSport fanatics are streaming content on a weekly basis, spending 8.1 hours per week not just viewing but broadcasting/publishing their own gameplay. Close to 50% of eSport fanatics stream their own gameplay on socially rich websites such as Twitch and Youtube Gaming. For Gen X or older this may seem odd but as Twitch CEO Emmett Shear puts it “When the Food Network launched, nobody thought that watching food shows could be such a huge thing. Gaming is the same way”.
The second key point is around the industry structure and how it is becoming established in this market. In almost every way, the structure of eSports is directly comparable to other sports. There are players, leagues, teams, events, tournaments, broadcasters, sponsors, betting platforms and so on. There are an increasing number of local events that are boasting sizeable physical audiences supported by online viewing of around 40,000 people.
At every level there are opportunities for brands to invest and capitalise on the growth of eSports in this market. The assets and supporting media are now in place for brands to reach a highly engaged and passionate young male audience. A final word of caution though, as we’ve found with recent research into movies, it’s vital that brands don’t just label eSports and hope for the best. While brands that invest now will benefit from being seen to support and grow eSports, it’s important that how these assets are activated add value to the fan’s experience. For brands that do, the rewards can be huge as overseas case studies prove but that is a whole other post.
eSports is not the is not the nerdy niche quirk many think, and perhps hope it is. I urge you to embrace what is an exciting, growing and mainstream sport that presents sizeable opportunities NOW to reach a passionate and socially engaged audience.