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Factors in Esports and Events Viewership and Engagement

Events may be esports focused, in person, or online. Image: © 2021 Twitch Interactive, Inc.

Not all events are created equal —

Yet, despite the difference in viewership and a variety of sizes between these events’ prize pools, these are all outstanding numbers for each respective game, genre, and event.

It raises the question: Why did the most popular game on steam, CSGO, have less viewership by half than the second most popular game? What factors into creating an amazing event with impressive viewership and engagement, even for smaller games and events?

Let’s start with the most obvious:

Popularity of the Game

Out of 180 million players, approximately 73 million of them watched the World Championships.

When you’re thinking about holding an Event for a gaming community, the first and foremost detail that everyone probably thinks about is: how many people play the game? Or, at least, how many people pay attention to it?

In most cases, the more popular it is on PC, the crowned king of gaming platforms for events, the better off it will fare. Redbull Kumite 2021 was a fighting game invitational, yet unfortunately Fighting Games simply aren’t as popular as MOBA’s like League of Legends, with 180 million monthly users, or First-Person Shooters like CSGO or Overwatch. Though, in comparison to the average PC player base for these games, Red Bull Kumite 2021 still managed to pull outstanding numbers for the genre perhaps thanks to the Fighting Game Community’s strong presence on consoles.

Prestige of Event

Huge prizes are guaranteed for nearly all participating teams in the Dota 2 international. Image: Valve Corporation

World Championships always bring in big numbers for their publishers, developers, players, and tournament operators alike. The skill-level on display is the highest it can get. The prize pools are glistening in their 7 to 8 digit glory.

Often, an entire year of events, of sweat and heartbreak, all lead up to One Big Event. So much so that even casual observers will tune-in to these events. For comparison, The League Championship Series, also known as the LCS, the North American Professional Series for League of Legends, only drew roughly 71,419 at its peak in the opening weekend of 2021’s regular spring season.

Just as we all know that while most Americans do not watch the NFL regularly, they will, however, tune in on Super Bowl Sunday where the action and the stakes are highest. The victor will be immortalized, so to speak, and the loser is often forgotten entirely.

Prestige also envelopes the popularity of the talent: the players, the casters, the hosts, or a musical guest appearance. People go out of their way to watch their favorite people on screen, just as it may be that many — 104.1million — tune into the Super Bowl just to see their favorite artists perform for the halftime show.

Awareness

Riot Games marketed their VALORANT Champions event with super cool in-game skins for players to view and purchase. Image: Riot Games

If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Marketing your event is just as important as any other aspect in this list for creating an amazing, successful event. People can’t watch or attend, even if they wanted to, if they don’t know about it and aren’t excited for it.

No matter how popular or how prestigious the event.

You would think this is just plain ole common sense, but you’d be surprised how often people miss out on key major events with 7-digit prize pools and all the top talent in the world simply because they have never heard of it or the community for it wasn’t hyped up quite enough. It’s an important factor to remember.

Watchability

This is a special category that is immensely important for all tournament operators and organizers. Yet, it isn’t one where the responsibility falls primarily on their shoulders, but rather on the design of the game itself. It is mostly the question of choosing the right game:

How watchable is your game? Will viewers miss out on some of the action? Is it hard to follow? Does it rely on dizzying camera switches in attempt to get the players’ perspectives on screen for viewers?

It’s a question of: Why are MOBA’s the king of Esports, while similarly popular FPS games lag behind?

I’ve created a few criteria to try to describe and break most current competitive games down, and how they intersect on the Venn diagram determines their watchability :

  • Team-Based
  • Solo
  • Normal View
  • Player-Camera Conflict
  • Speedrunning
For the most part, this casters’ view is exactly what the players also see on their screens. Image: Riot Games

MOBA’s categorically fall into the realm of Team-Based, Normal View games. This means that there are multiple players in the game at the same time, and the viewers or casters have almost the exact same view that the players do. Most of the action will make it on screen and as a result there will be a more fulfilling viewer experience. The few player decisions that are lost are generally due to larger map sizes or caster-removal of fog of war preventing the camera from taking in everything at once.

One players’ perspective out of 10 total players. It’s difficult to capture the action on each players’ screen. Image: Valve Corporation

FPS’s fall into the two categories of being Team-Based and having Player-Camera conflict. This means that most of the action is happening in each individual players’ perspective and it is nigh impossible for casters and camera operators to catch every flick, headshot, line-up, and play from the perspective of the players. Much of the information valuable for viewers is lost in real-time, but may be made up for in replays or clips posted to Youtube, Twitch, or other social media.

Here is the possible exception to the rule for popularity affecting engagement between CSGO vs Dota 2, the number 1 and 2 most played games on Steam. While I admit that Dota 2’s prestige is debatably higher due to the fact that the game annually breaks prize pool records, Dota 2 is also easier to watch and glean the necessary understanding of the moment-to-moment action.

What you see is what you get in most fighting games. Image: Arc System Works

Fighting Games, similar to Chess, are unique in that they are typically solo games where virtually none of the information is lost. You see what the players see and you see all the information on screen at all times. Competitive card games are similar in this regard with the caveat that the audience often sees more than the players thanks to hidden cards in each competitors’ respective hands.

Speedrunning falls into a category all its own because generally viewers are merely watching someone play through a game, albeit with tricks, exploits, or other strategies to progress quicker than normal. Nonetheless, none of the information is lost.

The larger the teams, or the more players in a competitive match, the less valuable information is available to viewers. The number of decisions being made on a competitive level is exponentially increased per additional teammate or person — to the detriment of large-scale Battle Royale games, especially.

The final part which doesn’t necessarily deserve its own category here is: Speed. The faster the action, the harder it is to follow. In a Normal View type game, it is less of a problem: the action in Dota 2, League of Legends, or even Rocket League can happen extremely quickly. However, many find a game like Overwatch totally unwatchable as a Team-Based, Player-Camera Conflict, constantly superfast game.

Being a very watchable game doesn’t guarantee a large viewership or engaged fanbase, however it is certainly a factor in determining what gets watched at all as well as what new games might become competitors in the spectator-esports arena.

Viewer Alignment

Team Liquid fans showing their spirit for a Dota 2 International match. Image: Valve Corporation

Tribalism. People want to see their favorite organizations and teams play and win. Arguments are had over whose favorite teams are better. People “hate” other teams, and even other fans. Our favorite teams may make up our personal sense of identity. The pronoun “We” starts getting thrown around a lot when talking about our favorite teams.

And much, much more. It’s safe to say it can be a powerful driving force if big teams with big names are playing in your events.

Viewer Rewards

Ever attended something because you knew there would be free pizza or a chance to win a raffle for a Big Shiny Free Thing?

It works for gaming events too. In fact, VALORANT’s peak viewership was when the only way to access the game was to watch streams and hope for the random chance at an access key. Twitch Drops continue to be a strong motivator for increased engagement across events and regularly scheduled streams.

Not just that, but any kind of reward-potential for simply tuning into an event can be a significant motivator and give a sense of credibility to viewers that their time is being well-spent.

Event Specifics

The Game Awards aren’t just about recognizing the best games of the year. Many new titles are also revealed during these events. Image: The Game Awards

This small category is just a way of saying: extra features and novel additions to any event may influence people to tune in, and they can be the metaphoric cherry-on-top that succeeds in drawing a stingier crowd or those who were on the fence about engaging with your event.

These may be but aren’t limited to: potential game reveals, charity initiatives and tie-ins, unique set designs, abnormally large prize pools, musical guests, or really anything else that might be added onto an event that doesn’t fit in another category.

Always keep in mind how you may be able to bring novel ideas and concepts into your events, no matter how small. If nothing else, it helps make them more memorable for everyone involved.

Social Pressure

Time to check your social metrics for impressions. Everyone has that one friend that is always sharing links to twitch streams for games and events that you normally don’t care about at all, but sometimes you do tune in and watch. Maybe this is how you became a fan of that one game you play all the time. You gave it a chance, on a whim, because a friend thought it was cool enough or valuable enough to share.

Evangelize your normal player base or viewership to try to bring their friends into the fold and you’ll see an increase in viewership, even if only slightly.

Competing Events

Woe and behold the tournament organizer that holds their championship matches on the same day as a much bigger, more popular game. Imagine scheduling an event the day most-hyped-game Cyberpunk 2077 was released, or during the World Cup Final, or on Christmas morning.

You don’t do it. People won’t show up. Hell, people might be hesitant to even play in that kind of event.

In short, make sure you plan and time your events well. There’s no ultra hyped game releases, massively popular gaming events, or globally observed holidays.

Life Obligations

While I didn’t watch this year’s Thanksgiving football match, you can be damn sure it was on the TV in the house. Image: AP

I admit, the final category is a little tied into the previous one. Your event engagement could be low simply because people have other stuff to do. It may also be higher due to holidays or being on a Sunday. Like Christmas or the Super Bowl. This year, the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving football game reached 38.5m viewers, the highest in 31 years.

But, to put it simply: don’t plan events at 2am because people will be sleeping or in the middle of the day during the week because people will be working or in school. Don’t plan collegiate tournaments during Finals Week or while students are off campus for spring break.

Your engagement may skyrocket for a year or two because the entire planet is quarantined inside their house with nothing to do but hang out on their computer all day.

Yet, your engagement may plummet because the Royal Family of the United Kingdom is having a wedding at the same time as your event. Sometimes it can be hard to predict, but vital to observe and keep in mind at all times — before and after your event.

— -

Temper your expectations and evaluate in pre and post planning for all possible causes for both increased engagement and decreased engagement. Hopefully this list will help you discover ways to check that you have addressed all of the key factors for esports and events viewership and engagement so you can hold the best events possible!

Thanks for reading.

-The Smerf Team

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The company blog for all things Smerf. www.smerf.com

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