From measuring audience metrics to platform and tournament sponsorship, monetising esports is not without its challenges. IBC365 speaks with industry experts on tactics for broadcasters to deliver live esports production.
Esports viewership and industry engagement is on a rapid global upward trajectory, likely to challenge the success of traditional sport broadcasts and audience figures.
The global esports market is expected to exceed $1 billion at the end of this year, according to esports analyst firm Newzoo, with around 82% of the total market coming from media rights, advertising and sponsorship investments.
With huge audience engagement, around 453.8 million people worldwide, broadcasters and dedicated platform providers are well positioned to capitalised and monetise the esports enthusiasts, however, to do so successfully and seamlessly without jeopardising the integrity of the production is a challenge.
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ESL chief executive James Dean tells IBC365: “I believe once the digital viewership is properly recognised by advertisers and rights buyers, there will be a much higher level of revenue generated in what we would consider media rights around esports tournaments.
“However it’s a chicken and egg situation, without the revenues, there is less incentive to introduce industry standards, reporting and to some degree regulators (such as Ofcom).”
Esports fans are unforgiving, they’re typically younger than traditional sports audiences, they demand high quality production values and seamless delivery of the tournament they’re watching.
Competitive gaming platform FACEIT director of content Mike Bembenek says: “Our goal is to help our broadcast partners keep viewers in their ecosystem or product loop and watch more content.
”The esports industry has a lot of hype and is still very niche with a diaspora audience, however, the audience has become much more consistent and reliable while continuing to see growth.”
Explaining he is not a “fan of how competitive gaming is compared to traditional sports in terms of numbers,” Bembenek highlights the other parallels with live productions.
He adds: “As with sport, our live broadcasts achieve more views than on-demand and the production and atmosphere are similar which is why we ended up with the term “esports.”
“Overall, we have a long way to go in both production value and resources.”
FACEIT has partnered with Turner Sports and NBC Sports, where they have collaborated on the production value for broadcasting esports has ensure a high-quality control and a lift in sales.
He continues: “The challenge for us is making sure we are focused on both the broadcast partner’s key metrics along with those of our sponsors. Sponsor metrics mostly revolve around hours watched and total view, for example, did the viewer see the brand’s segment or logo at least three times while watching?”
As such, the nature of esports, much like football or rugby, has limited amounts of sponsorship time available for brands to speak directly to viewers.
Dean explains: “The real opportunity within esports is direct to consumer value.
“The younger demographic is striving for more narrative, personalisation, immersive experiences and licenced merchandise, both digital and physical, leaving nothing uncovered.”
The opportunity for broadcasters here is how to further monetise.
Dean adds: “The value on a more micro-transactional level in tandem with existing revenue drivers. Technology will help achieve this until media rights as we know them today will not exist, but revenues I expect will be even higher.”
Global game changer
Esports relies largely on sponsorship and game publisher revenue contribution in order to financially operate.
Dean says: “It is in everyone’s interest to maximise the reach and eyeballs of all tournaments. This means that largely tournaments will be broadcast on multiple digital platforms and in some cases linear TV too.
“Therefore audiences are usually measured by aggregate of the various platforms and the different metrics that the platforms offer for their content creators.”
Riot Games head of business development and sponsorship for the League of Legends European Championship Alban Dechelotte explains the purpose and method behind tracking esports audiences and the variation across the industry.
He says: “For live streamed content, on YouTube or Twitch for example, we track viewership across four dimensions: peak concurrent, average concurrent, average daily uniques and hours watched.
“For television we track the average viewership per minute via our broadcast partners in territories such as Poland and Spain.”
The biggest challenge here is clear, how can audiences across the globe, using various platforms accurately be measured?
Broadcast platforms including YouTube. Twitch, Ginx and Mixer offer different draw cards for viewers to tune into their streams. Broadcasters alike need to offer customised content to ensure engagement and entertainment are top takeaways.
Bembenek says: “Accuracy is all in the hands of the platforms - each have their own measurements and tracking. What the platform is selling against (pre/mid/post pre-rolls) is different to what the organiser is selling (in-tournament/broadcast and event branding).
“It would be advantageous for all platforms to align and work with third parties to track and audit viewing stats.”
Something unique broadcasters can bring to the arena is what is missing from most platforms and that is the measurement of audience’s core demographic.
Bembenek continues: “The audience for esports and the nature of free-to-air digital means our viewership is confined to pockets around the globe; the esports diaspora.
“It not only matters where our viewers come from but the quality of the interaction; did they use Twitch chat or comment on the video? Like or Subscribe? How long did the viewer stick around for?”
Dean looks to the future opportunities, saying: “Many traditional sports are also either considering or executing esports strategies of their own which will only bolster their sports IP directly, so there is a level of convergence too.”
Creating industry wide definitions of what success looks like is critical.
He adds: “There needs to be more definition about what we are referring to with the term esports and the audience from each.”
Dean and Bembenek agreed the work Newzoo has done on tracking and forecasting the esports market trends is “fantastic,” however Dean explains: “It is important to remember that the term esports encapsulates tournaments around many game titles, similarly to the term sports encapsulating many sporting titles.
“So while the audience in esports is extremely large and continually growing, I believe we will eventually be referring to actual game titles and tournaments directly rather than just esports.”
Nonetheless the opportunities for broadcasters to collaborate and deliver live productions is enormous, from the sponsorship opportunities to the digital content offerings which could mirror the online catchup services common today.
Dean adds: “Also it’s important to keep in mind that the main stakeholder being the game publisher is largely measuring an ROI based on the success of their game sales.
“There is a trend with the larger games in esports however where the game publishers are now recognising the opportunity around the media rights of their IP.”
Industry leaders explained the benefits of moving towards remote and cloud production during a panel session at IBC2019, they explained the importance of harnessing data as the outlined the purpose behind rethinking the production workflows of esports tournaments.