Why Drone Racing League Has Already Lost To eSports | THE NEXT LEVEL 026

Manny Anekal
Jul 12, 2016 · 7 min read


My Take: A few weeks ago, the headline above got my attention. Anyone that has been reading me for the past few months knows that I focus on a few areas related to eSports:

  • eSports Opportunities for Brands
  • The truth behind eSports Viewership numbers
  • eSports comparison to traditional sports like Nascar, UFC, NHL, and Soccer
  • Overall eSports infrastructure and potential verticals

A twenty word headline in a major industry trade publication covered every point that I’ve been focusing on. Not only that, the 40 Million Viewers number was astonishing.

How did a “sport” that I had heard as little about as Foot Darts get to this scale so quickly?

Let’s take a deeper look into Drone Racing League’s 40M Viewer figure. For perspective, this is is how little “research” needs to be done to realize the 40M number is ridiculously inaccurate — the comment below was made just after the article was published:

(Photo: AdWeek)

Let’s start with the Nascar comparison. Here’s a snapshot of just one week of Sports on TV and the Viewers:

(Photo: The Next Level)

Here’s what a lot of people forget about Nascar — it’s hugely popular in this country. Just look at the ratings, the revenue and the growth. The Sprint Cup had almost the same amount of 18–49 Viewers as Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals — whether that’s the strength of Nascar or the lack of audience interest in the NHL, Ill let you decide. I was afraid to compare eSports to Nascar early on for this same reason.

So Drone Racing League’s 40M viewers for it’s first race not only outdrew Nascar but double the highest rated NBA Finals Game 1 for ABC? OK.


Looking into the 40M Viewers number further, it’s repeated in this presentation by Drone Racing League’s CEO Nick Horbaczewski:

(Source: Vimeo)

I’ve captured the relevant slide below:

(Photo: DRL Vimeo Video)

As you can see, the People count of 865,000 would be 2% of the reported 40M Viewer number. Let’s see if that’s even accurate:

(Source: The Next Level)

Assuming that every single one of those subscribers across Twitch and YouTube watched the race, we’re still short about 800,000 Viewers.

OK, so the 40M Viewers are actually Video Views? Let’s check that. Here’s what the CEO says in the video:

Over 40M people around the world viewed some content from this race on both primary and digital channels” — Nick Horbaczewski

I’ve worked in Digital Media for almost 20 years and I’m confused as to what that actually means. Also why would US focused companies care how many International viewers there are?

Drone Racing League has said they’re not focused on Live content but produced highlights. Here’s what the actual data shows us based on the 62 Videos of the Miami Lights race on Twitch and YouTube:

(Source: The Next Level)

I included every YouTube video related to the race — even if they were just promo videos — and we’re still only at 1.7M Video Views. Unless the Drone Racing League’s website or some other mysterious distribution Channel garnered 38.3M Views, even that figure is vastly off.

So we’re not even close to Drone Racing League being viable from a Media perspective today.


I’ve always tried to look at any subject from both sides to at least get a sense of where both parties are coming from whether I agree or not. If you’re going to be critical of something (Read: Actual research, analysis and thought vs. pointing finger and shouting) you need to at least address the other side of the coin. There are two ways that Drone Racing in general are advantageous over eSports:


(Video: YouTube)

Take 2 minutes and watch that video. Drone Racing is really fun to watch! And unlike League of Legends, you don’t need a tutor to figure out what’s going on if you’ve never watched it before.


This is super interesting to me. In eSports currently, the sparse infrastructure is vastly spread out: Publishers, Games, Leagues, Distribution, Hardware, Location, Teams, Players ….and I could go on.

Drone Racing League aims to capture the entire supply chain of the new industry by controlling where the races are held, the drones themselves and and the media rights. In eSports everyone is fighting for all of these pieces.

While the infrastructure point is great from an investment perspective, let’s end with the focus on the Media and Brand opportunities and the challenges ahead.


Will Drone Racing League be bigger than eSports? I don’t think so just based on the following two simple points:

  • COST

I believe a huge reason that Soccer/Futbol is the Global Sport is that not only is it fairly simple to understand; in areas of the world with less infrastructure (Yes, currently poorer and most of the world) all you need is a ball.

While the Dubai World Grand Prix looks amazing, pay attention to the setup needed, production value and overall hardware costs. I’ve been told the cost for that from 3 different people and without revealing that figure — what it cost for 1 weekend you could easily put on a full eSports League and Season. There aren’t many places in the world with $100B in yearly oil revenue. Even if Drone Racing League does it cheaper, it’s still a capital cost.

More importantly, how much is it going to cost the user to participate with all of the hardware required?


This is the biggest factor of them all. If I wanted to engage with Drone Racing among my friends, I’d need an expensive drone, friends that have said drones and a track to race them on — without even getting into the headset and camera functionality. If I want to engage and compete in eSports, I pull out my phone. I’d also wager that billions more people around the world will purchase computers or gaming hardware over drones in the future.

Do I have some hidden vendetta against Drone Racing League? Absolutely not. It’s very simple:

If everyone from Multi-Billion Dollar Media companies to new emerging startups are going to continue to release horrible Digital Data on Viewership — I’m going to continue to educate Brands, Marketers and Ad Agencies on the reality.

I hope I’ve tried to convey some level of impartiality but you be the judge. Here’s what will happen next on that 40M Viewers number:

  • Silence
  • He Said: The Publication and Journalist misunderstood the numbers! Then address that the numbers were misleading.
  • She Said: That’s the numbers they gave me! 15 minutes worth of Googling for an Industry publication would have revealed the truth.

Either way, the 40M Viewer figure doesn’t matter to me but I’d be curious to hear what the Ad Agencies and the “50 major Marketers in talks with DRL” have to say.

TL/DR: Not only is eSports vastly bigger currently than Drone Racing while providing greater ROI for Brands; it also has much greater long term potential. We’ll know soon enough who the Media, Advertising, Sports and Investment community will partner with further.


(Source: The Next Level)

My Take: Week 7 was a Bye week for E LEAGUE — more than likely due to the huge ESL One Major in Cologne — and prior to the playoffs in the final 3 weeks. Week 6 TV Viewership was not available last week and I’ve updated the latest figures. [Update: TBS actually showed a hour replay of E LEAGUE at 10pm and will be included for next week]

Now that we’re coming down to the conclusion of E LEAGUE’s Season 1, I don’t expect a huge change in 18–49 Viewership and hope it beats Week 2.

What’s going to be a really interesting comparison for me? This Sunday’s broadcast of the EVO Street Fighter V Championship on ESPN2. Here’s a sneak peek into the growth of EVO participants for an upcoming analysis:

(Source: The Next Level)

Thanks for sharing your time! Please Recommend if you liked this.

For Early Access to The Next Level, Free Sign Up → eepurl.com/b6qZLT

Manny Anekal

Written by

esports. Founder and CEO: The Next Level (Media), Versus Sports (Team), and Versus Consulting. Podcast → https://soundcloud.com/tnlmedia

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade