The business of esports is attracting record-breaking audiences as quickly as it is gaining interest from advertisers, however, the measurement of ad success and audience engagement is as complicated as it is dense with competition.

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Esports: The question of advertising 

Esports metrics such as unique views and total minutes watched have created remarkable narratives for the growth of esports with analysts predicting esports to outgross traditional sports.

Research firm Newzoo forecasted esports to be worth $1.7 billion in revenue by 2021 and its boldest prediction is that every US media conglomerates will possess media right to esports in their global portfolio.

According to the report: “We expect these companies to not only feature esports on their linear media platforms (as seen with the Overwatch League on Disney XD) but also on non-linear live-streaming platforms, such as Disney’s upcoming streaming service.”

However, audience metrics and equalised measurement of data needs to be standardised and understood as well as defined uniquely away from traditional linear TV viewership measurement.

State of the stats
Traditional sports TV viewership figures are measured using a third party and standardised metrics, while esports viewership is measured through tournament organisers, game developers or the streaming platforms. While the figures are arguably accurate there are inconsistencies across the sector.

British Esports Association content director Dominic Sacco told IBC365 the challenge in accurately measuring esports audiences is down to fragmentation.

“Esports tournaments are predominantly watched through free, ad-supported streaming services, making them attractive for those who are unwilling to pay for content” – Hazel Ford, Ampere Analysis

He said: “Esports can be tricky to measure as a whole, as a fan or viewer of one game may not watch another game.”

The landscape is buzzing with distributors and advertisers wanting a piece of the prize.

Ampere Analysis analyst Hazel Ford explained how esports is “somewhat similar” to linear TV, “where a consumer may have the TV on in the background or not switch it off while they’re in the room, some esports viewers may be less invested in the tournament, opting to run a stream in the background whilst doing other things.”

Typically, esports attracts younger audiences between the ages of 18 to 34 with the emerging generations shifting away from traditional linear TV.

She added: “Esports tournaments are predominantly watched through free, ad-supported streaming services, making them attractive for those who are unwilling to pay for content.

Evolving to an industry-standard such as AMA is important so that advertisers and sponsors can more accurately value the various broadcasts” – Dan Nemo, StreamMetrics

“In contrast, many of the most popular sports are typically accessible through paid-for channels.”

Audience measurement must account for differences in how streaming platforms and others define metrics that might have the same name but are derived differently.

Measurement and data analytics company StreamMetrics co-founder and chief operating officer Dan Nemo told IBC365: “The metrics have been very inconsistent and incomparable and have relied on trusting first-party data reporting without independent vetting or transparent methodological rigour.

“Evolving to an industry-standard such as average minute audience (AMA) is important so that advertisers and sponsors can more accurately value the various broadcasts and can compare them to the way they are buying video broadcasts on other platforms.

“This is a critical component of growing the esports industry.”

Compare the pair
According to StreamMetric data using esports AMA for the major events in the US are between 50,000 and up to 500,000, which ranks around the size of a Major League Baseball game.

This is far behind leagues such as the NFL and NBA, which have average audiences in the US of tens of millions, and the EPL which has an average audience of several million in the US.

Echoing Ford’s audience analysis comments, Nemo added: “Esports audiences tend to skew younger than traditional sports audiences and include the digitally-savvy consumers that are so attractive to brands and advertisers but difficult to reach through traditional advertising channels.”


The figures: Average minute audience is between 50,000 to 500,000 (StreamMetric)

Esports platforms including Amazon-owned Twitch, Ginx and YouTube air content similarly to any other broadcasters however as their statistics shared externally are at their own discretion the measurement leveraged across the sector cannot be taken as objectively as the likes of commercial broadcasters figures.

Blizzard esports strategy and analytics lead Kasra Jafroodi said: “Historically, metrics like views, uniques, and peak concurrents were popular because they’re simply big numbers.

“At Activision Blizzard Esports, we’ve always focused on AMA because it is the same measurement used by Nielsen in traditional media and can be compared apples to apples to traditional sports.”

Accounting for audiences
Companies such as Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s Riot Games and World of Warcraft’s developer Blizzard have introduced new viewing metrics, while earlier this year Sweden’s Modern Times Group enlisted Nielsen to provide data on how many people are actually watching their ESL and Dreamhack events.

As is stands today, most measurement companies process Twitch APIs or report on first-party data provided to them, which is not actually third-party independent audience measurement, according to Nemo, who explained: “Twitch and YouTube use a different live stream time duration to count a viewer.

“There’s a plethora of advertising opportunities in esports” – Dominic Sacco, British Esports Association

“It is encouraging that the leaders in the industry are turning to traditional measurement companies such as Nielsen as well as start-ups such as StreamMetrics to help bring order and establish a standard, but it also must be well understood how that measurement is being done and if it’s truly third-party independent measurement before a source can be crowned as a standard-bearer.”

Establishing authentic audience figures is critical for authenticity to ad buyers where deals are likely to be formed on the success of published metrics.

A recent report from gaming business title Kotaku found esports have used the lack of clarity around viewership to peddle unverifiable and potentially inflated numbers to advertisers.

As such, it found that more mainstream advertisers have kept their distance due to how unreliable viewership numbers have been.

Sacco said: “The more accurate data out there, the better, as this will better help educate brands coming into esports and can help grow the esports ecosystem overall.

“There’s a plethora of advertising opportunities in esports, from sponsoring tournament and players and teams to running your own tournaments or initiatives, or getting involved in the grassroots or prosectors.”