eSports vs. Baseball: MLG and MLB | THE NEXT LEVEL 05

Manny Anekal
May 10, 2016 · 7 min read

Exclusive: MLG vs. MLB

Story of the Week: Last week I analyzed eSports vs. Sports League revenues and what’s the real truth. While you hear statements that eSports will be bigger than the NHL, even with its recent growth, it still has ways to go to compete with the Big 4 Sports Leagues.

My Take: Similarly the same comments are being made about eSports Viewership vs. Sports on TV:

And from Activision’s recent earnings call:

“eSports viewership is greater than the individual audiences for NHL, MLB, or the NBA”
-Bobby Kotick, CEO Activision

Here are the statistics everyone’s talking about:

It’s a very easy story to compare eSports Digital viewership to Sports TV viewership — but is it true?


There are 3 reasons for this:

  • What’s A Viewer: This is the biggest one of all: how is a viewer defined? Riot calls their 27M “total unique viewer count”. Just like the Yahoo NFL live stream got hyped at “33M Streams and 15M Unique Viewers” — in reality it was only 2.4M viewers. Digital Unique viewer counts/views are not applicable to TV.
  • International Viewers: The little known secret of eSports viewership: depending on the game/teams playing, the International audience could range from 25% to as high as 65%. The Sports Leagues viewer numbers are based on Nielsen data which is US only. The 27M figure for League of Legends would be closer to 13M for US Only.
  • “Finals” vs. a Series: The 27M League of Legends viewer number is just for the Finals or 1 game. The comparison to the NHL, MLB, and NBA Finals is for the average for the entire series or multiple games

My buddy Joe Marchese of Fox Interactive says the same thing here and to use his quote:”This isn’t just comparing apples with oranges, it’s comparing apples with baseball-stadium-sized oranges”.

To put it more bluntly from Gawker: “Internet Video Views Is A 100% Bullshit Metric”.

There is only 1 way to accurately compare a digital audience with Nielsen TV measurement:

Total Consumed Minutes of Event/Total Minutes of Event or Average Concurrent Viewers (ACV). I’ll be using this metric going forward.

The Yahoo NFL true viewer count of 2.4M was calculated in this same manner. As most eSports events don’t release the total minutes consumed just for the Finals, this becomes very challenging to compare eSports digital viewership with Sports on TV. But I’m going to try anyway.

A few qualifications before we begin:

  • This is not Apples-to-Apples. But if we can at least get to Apples-to-Pears, there’s guidance on the viewership potential for eSports and importantly, the ROI for Brands.
  • With little public info, I’ve made assumptions based on internal streaming data and industry sources.

Activision’s Kotick said “we’re barely in the first inning of opportunity as games as organized sport.” In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, what else was on during Activision’s MLG CS:GO Major Finals on April 3rd?

The MLB 2016 Opening Season game between the Pirates and Cardinals on ESPN.

Major League Gaming vs. Major League Baseball

As MLG did not release the consumed minutes for the Finals only, coupled with the qualifications I’ve already made, let’s use the 1.6M concurrent Finals viewers number that was public.

  • % That Watched Entire Finals: The 1.6M is the Max Concurrent viewers for any given moment during the event, so if someone watched for only 1 second, that could be 1 viewer. Let’s assume that 80% of these “viewers” watched the entire game to get a similar baseline to TV.
  • International %: Based on previous CS:GO events and considering the Final 2 teams were from the Ukraine and Brazil/Canada, 50% of viewers from outside the US is fair.
  • M 18–49%: Using both public research company data and internal streaming data, 70% is a good rate for this age and demo.

Based on these assumptions, MLG’s M 18–49 Viewership would be 448,000.
What did MLB deliver?

Based on Nielsen TV ratings, the MLB’s M 18–49 Viewership was 924,000. Taking into account that this was the 1st game on MLB’s 2016 Opening Day televised nationally on ESPN, an eSports audience of half that is astonishing. Assuming I’m way off and even cutting my estimates in half, ~250,000 is still a solid number.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting — What does this mean from a Brand ROI perspective?

Using a $20 Digital CPM and previous eSports Ad pricing, a $100,000 ad buy would get a Brand:

  • MLB: (2) :30sec TV Spots
  • Activision: (11) :30sec Digital Spots, Engagement, Much younger audience

In addition to more than 5X Ad Frequency Per Viewer, here is the engagement found in eSports:

It’s still very early in making eSports as popular as Sports programming. Publishers, media companies, and brands that embrace the space early enough have an opportunity to establish a leadership position in an emerging medium.

Just for fun, here’s a comparison of Activision Digital vs. eSports shown on TV this year:

eSports does not need TV, TV needs eSports. With Turner’s E-League impending, expect more data comparisons and Brand deals on the way.

ESL Brings eSports to Barclays Center
ESL is bringing ESL One to the Barclays Center in New York. This will also be the Barclays Center’s first eSports event.

My Take: Outside of seeing a major event in my Brooklyn backyard, it’s great to see another arena embrace eSports. Also interesting to note that ESL had previously held their NYC event at Madison Square Garden. As Barclays CEO Brett Yormark saidwe’ve got 365 days to fill”. It’s going to take some time to fill the empty space between Sporting events. Here are the days occupied for 2016 at both Arenas:

NHL/NBA Days at MSG: 82
NHL/NBA Days at Barclays: 82
eSports Days at MSG and Barclays: 4

Ultimate Media Ventures Launches and Apparel Line
LA based Ultimate Media Ventures which worked for MLG’s sold-out CS:GO Major in Columbus, is launching, focused on the eSports lifestyle, and Kills, an Apparel line.

My Take: Event production is a very challenging and non-scalable business and good to see UMV forge additional revenue streams. While the “TMZ for eSports” could fill a potential niche, I believe the much bigger opportunity lies on the Apparel side.

Apparel is a highly profitable business. The NFL made $1.4B in merchandise revenue in 2014. Go to any major eSports event and fans are decked out just like regular Sports. I’d love to know how many $80 hoodies top team Fnatic has sold this year.

I’m going to predict within <2 years, a major Sports apparel maker will jump into eSports.

Activision vs. EA or Infinite Warfare vs. Battlefield 1
This past week, Activision released their annual look at the next Call of Duty installment, Infinite Warfare. With it’s futuristic/space tone, Activision was very smart in bundling a remastered version of the highly popular Modern Warfare. Even with that, the community feedback was negative enough to prompt Activision to release a statement.

My Take: EA did a live stream reveal of the new Battlefield, which destroyed Destiny’s record of concurrent viewers with 400k+ on Twitch. EA also took Battlefield in a whole new direction by going back to World War 1. There was an overwhelmingly positive reaction across the gaming press and social media.

It’s all about sales at the end of the day but take this for what you will:

(From Sat May 7 1:30ET)

*As of Monday evening, up to 1M Dislikes and Likes respectively.


Turtle Beach launches it’s Elite Pro Tournament Gaming Headset and accessories with OpTic Gaming partnership.

My Take: Turtle Beach has long invested in the eSports scene and there’s nothing eye-popping here (except for maybe the $400 all in price tag). One aspect that few covered was that OpTic was previously sponsored by Astro Gaming, which sponsored an April Call of Duty tournament that OpTic actually played in. The competition among endemic brands to nail down top teams is heating up.

This is starting to turn into a OpTic Sponsor Spotlight. In just the past 6 months, OpTic has also signed deals with:

  • Scuf Gaming — OpTic House
  • Pepsi — Launch of Brisk Mate Iced Tea
  • Turtle Wax — OpTic Garage

Joking aside, kudos to Hector and the team for all their hard work over the years and to rEvXP for bringing brands to the table. I can’t believe I’m writing this so early in 2016: When does it become too many partnerships for 1 team?

Thanks for reading! Please Recommend if you liked this.

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Manny Anekal

Written by

esports. Founder and CEO: The Next Level (Media), Versus Sports (Team), and Versus Consulting. Podcast →

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