Esports has seen a coronavirus boom, with more broadcasters turning to competitive gaming to fill in the gaps left by the cancellation of sporting events. IBC365 rounds up some of its coverage of the esports market.

esports trophy credit Helena-Kristiansson_ESL-One-Birmingham

Esports continues to boom 

Source: Helena Kristiansson / ESL One Birmingham

Esports has long been identified as the next boom opportunity for broadcasters. With competitive gaming and online streaming both rapidly growing markets, the media and broadcast space risk losing out on younger viewers if they fail to enter the esports arena.

Covid-10 helped open the opportunity further. The cancellation of nearly all sporting events due to social distancing rules created a gap in both schedules and interest, and though many esports events have seen packed arenas, competitive gaming transfers to a remote home environment much more easily than football or rugby.

Multiple industry reports have painted a fairly bright future for esports—which refers to organized, multiplayer video game competitions—saying that there are great opportunities in this sector despite widespread disruptions caused by the outbreak.

According to a recent report from esports analytics firm Newzoo, the global esports market will generate $973.9 million in 2020 and $1.1 billion in 2021. That’s up from $776 million in 2018, though growth between 2019 and 2020 is expected to be flat, as Covid-19 will take a wider bite out of the economy.

Esports usage hours and reach rose by an estimated 30% in the first eight weeks of lockdown according to British Esports CEO Chester King, who spoke to IBC365 about the market outlook.

According to figures from games, music and audio at research firm Omdia, media rights make up the second largest revenue stream for esports, at $387 million, behind only sponsorship ($500m).

Winning gold with esports

One key question that remains for broadcasters is how to monetise the esports opportunity.

The coronavirus outbreak hasn’t totally spared the esports world. The biggest competitions, like Overwatch League, are held in massive arenas, often in front of sellout crowds. But these big events have had to be cancelled, hitting ticketing and merchandise sales.

Unlike traditional sports though, esports has been able to pivot from arenas to online only matches, where they’re finding a wide audience.

King thinks coronavirus and the shutdown of traditional sports has made advertisers take a closer look at esports as a medium. “Brands are coming to talk to us about esports who normally wouldn’t have, because all their money was in [traditional] sports sponsorship.”

King adds: “It has made a lot of brands review esports and to consider it as a credible option for them. Going forward, I think they’ll look at it very much as part of their options, whereas beforehand esports was very much dismissed.”

Webinar: Delivering live esports production at scale

With the massive rise of esports as a global entertainment phenomenon, it’s an increasingly important part of the live production business. Technology and service providers are building on their vast experience of delivering the biggest and most complex events in this fast-growing new sector.

In this IBC365 webinar, speakers go behind the scenes to understand the technology and workflow behind producing live esports events, including:

• Bringing complex esports events to life on screen to engage audiences.

• Optimising live production operations to produce esports events for a huge international audience.

• Comparing esports production with traditional sports and events broadcasting.

• Delivering esports events with cloud and remote production.

Interview: Simon Eicher, ESL

The esports business is on track to be a billion-dollar industry this year with as the number of participants, viewers and content partnerships continue to rise. So, it is no surprise that the media and broadcast industry is keeping a keen eye on this sizeable opportunity.

The appeal for broadcasters is obvious: as more people, primarily aged 18-35, become engaged in esports, it offers a new opportunity to capture the attention of a market that is hard to reach for the industry’s traditional players.

But even though esports is the fastest growing sport in the world today, it is far from new – in fact ESL has been operating in this space for almost two decades.

Simon Eicher is an executive producer and director of broadcast for esports services at ESL. He has been with the company since 2005, when he joined in an engineering role. Eicher, who still counts himself as a gamer, became responsible for all ESL productions globally in 2017.

VR and esports: The growth of a plucky niche

Virtual reality and traditional esports have had a similar growth pattern. It took esports decades to be recognised as a legitimate avenue for corporate endorsement. Players fought back against platform holders like Nintendo who shut down Super Smash Bros. tournaments or struggled to receive sponsors. Events were held in small hotel halls, hot and stuffy as spectators strained to watch a tiny screen. Public perception was dim.

Years later, the esports industry is now one of the most profitable areas in the world, with millions in prize pools and scores of fans that attend booked-out events. It has become a win/win scenario for everyone: video game developers receive more interest in their games by fostering a community atmosphere; events companies and technology producers receive more work as they organise massive events; broadcasters and platforms attract new, younger viewers; and top players are given an avenue to riches and stardom.

VR esports is experiencing the same growing pains as its older sibling. Crippled by small audiences and a limited portfolio of competitive games, the scene is nowhere near as big as communities like Fortnite or League of Legends. But its development is remarkably like the early days of other mainstream esports platforms, with a new layer of reality that adds more depth gameplay. While small, VR eSports has the potential to flourish over time. 

Interview: Chester King, British Esports

In July, a 16-year-old US teenager won a record-breaking solo prize of $3m (£2.4m) to win the Fortnite World Cup at a competition in the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, a venue best known for hosting the US Open tennis tournament.

Then, in August a European team, OG, won one of the highest-profile and most lucrative esports tournaments, the Dota 2 International, for the second year in a row. OG’s five teammates shared the $15.6m (£12.7m) top prize after a six-day-long contest held at Shanghai’s Mercedes Benz Arena.

Despite these huge sums being won and the growing profile of its events, esports remains a rather misunderstood activity outside its young participants and those involved.

So much so that the first few minutes of a conversation with Chester King, the chief executive of the British Esports Association, is spent discussing the spelling of the word esports. It’s not eSports or e-sports – both of which are commonly used in print – but esports, as agreed with the Associated Press two years ago.

Understanding the esports ecosystem

Broadcasters aren’t the only demographic trying to figure out what impact esports might have on their industry: based on a number of very well attended sessions at the recent SportsPro Live event in London, professional sport is too.

For the benefit of novices, speakers agreed that the term “esports” is not entirely useful. Introducing a panel discussion on where the esports and gaming business is heading, Ian Smith Integrity Commissioner at the Esports Integrity Coalition described the term as a slightly misleading umbrella term covering a variety of games that are lumped together in the same way that the Olympics lumps together 26 or 28 different sports.

“Just like the Olympics, we have the 100m men’s final at one end watched by 1.2 billion people and we have synchronized swimming at the other end watched by 12 people. Esports is exactly like that,” said Smith.