The Esports Content Ecosystem: A look inside the world of digital entertainment.
Esports has and continues to grow as an entertainment entity competing with content mediums such as film, music, on demand tv and social media. This content source has been growing for quite some time but is only now getting the attention of main stream organizations and corporate brands. Just about every aspect of esports, from online events to the team organizations themselves to major offline events, is meant to entertain a viewer base surrounded by one specific game or community. As technology has evolved throughout the years, esports content has with it and as such, now more than ever, esports content is a primary source for revenue generation and global engagement.
Esports gives the unique opportunity for personalities in the community to interact directly with their audience, through content creation. Personalities from players, to commentators, to journalists, routinely create content via live stream or pre-recorded uploads. Services like Twitch, YouTube, Mixer and Facebook allow them to provide content to their fans and community, regularly, free of charge — something rare when you look outside of esports into traditional entertainment. The possibilities have become endless when these types of platforms grow and create opportunities for them.
This type of content isn’t necessarily a new concept. Most personalities within esports have been creating it for years now, growing a fanbase that allows them to further develop their brand. As they build a following from the ground up, brands and team organizations are noticing the trends and sponsoring personalities based on the fact they already have a large audience to bring in viewership.
Fortnite is an example of such. Before an official esports format was even announced, organizations were signing players simply because they had already been creating content around the Fortnite game and had already developed a following. Players weren’t competing yet, but they were creating regular content around the game and now had the name of a team organization behind them. The popularity of Fornite in gaming and in pop culture also encouraged organizations to get in the competitive scene (even though it didn’t exist yet), as to become the first teams to sign players and appeal to sponsors.
In this sense, competition results have become only a minor focus for players and organizations in the past few years in esports as they have the opportunity now more than ever to capitalize equally, and sometimes more, with esports content creation. Even if a player or team fails, the content is what brings the audience back time and time again.
Esports Live Streaming
Live streaming as a content outlet has grown in popularity especially on services like Twitch.tv, which was acquired by Amazon in 2014. Since then, both YouTube and Facebook have begun to introduce live streaming services along with Microsoft acquiring Beam.tv in and rebranding it to Mixer in 2016.
Live streaming allows personalities to not only provide regular content, in real time, to their audience but the ability to directly interact with them. Imagine watching Lebron James courtside and communicating with him while he’s playing; talking about basketball, his personal life, his opinions on if pineapple belongs on pizza, and he interacts back with you by name. Furthermore, live streaming can also serve as a teaching opportunity. Many fans tune in to watch their favorite esports player to learn how to better their own gameplay, from the pros.
Aside from individual content from the pros themselves, esports tournaments from every level are broadcast on services such as these, for free.
Before there were live streaming services, like Twitch, there were already opportunities to reach an audience through pre-recorded content on YouTube. While live streaming is done on the fly in real time, big names in esports from players to personalities, to teams, to event organizers utilize resources to also create top quality pre-recorded content available.
OpTic Gaming has over one million subscribers on its YouTube channel alone with fans hungry to soak up exclusive and unique content around the organization. OpTic, specifically, utilizes both live streaming and uploaded content as it releases a series, Vision, weekly with behind the scene footage and updates around every team it supports. The channel’s most viewed video is an eight year old montage of sniper plays by the team owner, H3CZ, with 6.2 million views.
FaZe Clan began as a gaming clan on YouTube in 2010 that created content around “trick shots” and gaming highlights in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Eventually they expanded into competitive play but the organization continues to focus heavily on content surrounding players and personalities. Most players and personalities upload edited “vlogs” daily along with live streaming. FaZe Clan’s organization YouTube channel has 5.1 million subscribers and makes up to $60,000 a month solely on YouTube ad revenue alone.
Esports Content Studios
The need for as much fresh and consistent content as possible has grown to such heights that esports organizations are creating their own state-of-the art studios to focus completely on content. These studios have professional videographers, editors, etc. to create high quality video content that’s released to the public, for free.
SMITE and Paladins developers, Hi-Rez Studios launched Skillshot Media to handle esports content around its popular titles. In live streams and productions you can clearly see sponsored brands of the studio.
Riot Games, developer of the League of Legends game, recently allowed teams in the North American League of Legends Championship Series to produce and sell their own game content around their development teams over the summer. This opened a new revenue stream for organizations.
From this, Cloud9 gained a sponsorship from Mammoth Media to produce Academy team content, CLG gained a similar sponsorship from watch brand MVMT and Splyce established a separate media company, Emberlore, for content. These are just a few examples of esports organizations taking note of how important content is to their viewer base.
Esports Branded Content
Videos and live streams from some of the biggest names in esports consistently get hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of views and most of the content is unbranded.
Now with the stakes of content getting raised, corporate brands have the unique ability to jump onto either sponsor content that’s already being made, or create content in tandem with personalities and organizations. It’s a very effortless partnership from brands, it potentially brings cultural relevance to their brand within the gaming & esports community and the viewership can bring a tangible value for brand exposure. While access to this content is free of charge online, branding in esports is no longer as simple as creating a commercial or running an advertisement online, thanks to extensions like ad blocker. Brands are capitalizing on the vast amount of content creation esports personalities are already making by partnering to make branded esports content.
Sponsoring and advertising are not similar to other entertainment entities. Attention spans are short nowadays and ad revenue from website advertisements are difficult with ad blocker, specifically with the cord cutting habits of generation Z. Branded esports content is the strongest way to invest as players and organizations are already creating, and capitalizing, on their own unique content.
In 2017, Audi secured a partnership with CS:GO team, Astralis. According to a case study by esports marketing and media rights company RFRSH Entertainment and Nielsen, Audi received media exposure valued at more than 10x its investment during the ELEAGUE finals and DreamHack Las Vegas tournaments which Astralis participated in. This was due to live broadcast and mentions on digital and social media. ELEAGUE alone accounted for 82% of the value delivered by the broadcast. As content is easily accessible, professionals are beginning to capitalize more and more on content creation. The accessibility makes it easier for sponsors to want in on it.
Team SoloMid was one of the first organizations to sign a Fornite team and with the growing popularity of the game attracted many brands to get involved with the organization. One branded partnership came from the announcement of a sponsorship from Chipotle. The content was done as a blind “taste test challenge” and has so far received over 1.2 million views since May 2018.
Esports content creators build massive global followings without branding and sponsorship support from corporate brands. In 2019, we will see an increased effort from corporate brands and organizations to leverage the popularity of esports content creators. Connecting a corporate brand with an esports content creator is a very solid method of creating an authentic message to the millions of gaming and esports enthusiasts around the globe.