Engaging the eSports Ecosystem: From Nerd Niche to Mainstream Market
eSports is shaking up the media industry value chain, from cutting-edge content and IP assets to new distribution channels and audience engagement. As an add-on channel, it provides added value to established media channels, from film to TV and online publishing. After rising to mainstream popularity during the arcade culture of the 70s and 80s, eSports has evolved into a thriving marketplace for live and online video, ripe for explosive growth. Think YouTube, shortly after the Google acquisition.
eSports is one of the fastest growing markets at the intersection of media, content, technology, and data science. The size of the market is expected to grow exponentially as eSports expands into new cross-platform, high-revenue verticals. Tournaments take place all round the world, sponsored by major game franchises like League of Legends, with million dollar prize pools. A growing number of viewers places big bets through a growing network of fantasy eSports startups. Online platforms like YouTube and Twitch have enabled anyone to broadcast plays from home, giving way to a new generation of creators and makers who produce millions of views.
As a result, eSports is becoming the most popular sport in the world, with more than 40% of its global audience being viewers, not gamers. It is “appointment viewing, only online.” Just as TV became the user interface for mobile and wearable devices, eSports has potential to become the content focus for online video distribution, and live broadcasting especially. Though still in early stages of development, eSports has great potential to connect to viable trends in the mediascape, from media distribution to franchise/IP development and innovative business models like fantasy sports, influencer marketing, and virtual reality.
While global eSports tournaments are highly popular, they only serve as marketing vehicles, with low revenue potential. By contrast, eSports as an online video phenomenon shows rising profitability, especially in the gaming vertical. As distribution moves toward formats like live-streaming, virtual reality, and mobile video, the immersive focus of eSports has potential to become one of the key drivers in the new media landscape.
At present, eSports is undeniably a disruptive force in the traditional media landscape, given its growing role in live-streaming, competitive gaming, and related ventures like fantasy sports, event organization, and community management. And even though it is still an update of a traditional media channel, part of a larger omni-channel structure, the potential for disruption lies ahead.