As stadiums remain empty and sporting matches are postponed, esports is filling the void with fans turning from traditional sports to gaming. Alana Foster looks at the market and the movement from broadcasters and vendors.  

Esports showcase at IBC2019

Esports showcase at IBC2019

The business of esports has gained significant attention in recent years with record-breaking audiences and interest from advertisers, esports has offered unprecedented opportunities for broadcasters.

Now more than ever audiences are looking for ways to remain entertained during lockdown and esports has become the answer.

Over the last few weeks, since governments have mandated stay at home policies, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc won a virtual Grand Prix, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford competed in a virtual football battle against Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.

While, Fifa’s launched the Stay and Play Cup, which will involve players from 20 of Europe’s biggest football clubs.

Global esports revenues will grow to $1.1 billion in 2020, a year-on-year growth of 15.7%, up from $950.6 million in 2019, according to Newzoo Global Esports Market Report 2020.

In 2020, $822.4 million in revenues—or three-quarters of the total market—will come from media rights and sponsorship.

Globally, the total esports audience will grow to 495 million people in 2020, a year-on-year growth of 11.7%.

Esports offers a wealth of opportunities for its stakeholders, as shown by its growing participation figures, there has also been a huge rise in audiences tuning in.

The second half of March saw gaming conversation on Twitter jump 71% in comparison to the first two weeks, according to Esports Observer.

Twitter released numbers highlighting that there has been a 38% increase overall in unique authors and in the US, there has been an 89% increase in conversation and a 50% increase in unique authors on esports and gaming conversations.

Boosting broadcasting
The competitive video gaming has also caused a stir among the international broadcasting industry with the likes of IBC and NAB giving space to dedicated esports feature areas at their respective events.

Last year at IBC, its inaugural esports showcase explored the technical and commercial opportunities and challenges of the rapidly growing world of esports in an exclusive showcase. While NAB is unable to go ahead this year, its esports experience was designed to offer a deep dive into esports with a focus on the business and production side.

An industry which is already making a billion dollars a year its sure to gain further traction during the global pandemic with eyeballs needing occupying.

The challenge broadcasters are facing is the programming hole live sports events otherwise would’ve occupied the schedule, as such they’re looking at opportunities with esports to fill the linear schedule.

ESPN vice president of digital programming told Variety: “We’ve lost a big chunk of what would normally be our programming schedules with live sports and so that’s put us in a position to actually think really creatively about what we’re putting on linear television.”

UK broadcasters BBC and Sky have turned to esports as a way to continue entertaining their audiences during lockdown.

Ben Gallop, BBC Sport’s head of digital, told to the Guardian: “We had been preparing for one of the biggest summers we’ve ever known.

“The usual stuff: the end of the Premier League, Wimbledon, the Opens, cricket, then Euro 2020, and the Tokyo Olympics. And then slowly, it dropped off one by one.

“But there was a really strong audience need, even as events fell away. What really struck me is that our audience is still coming to us, to BBC Sport, even though there isn’t any live sport.

“People are, across the country, in a pretty parlous state, and everyone needs what the BBC is able to provide: we inform and educate, but also we entertain. We bring people together around the actual live events, and we wanted to carry on doing similar.”

Last weekend, Sky Sports viewers were aired the semi-finals and final of a new football tournament, with an A-list of players including Raheem Sterling, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Wilfried Zaha.

However, the tournament, which was also broadcast on BBC iPlayer, is different to its previous televised competitions as it was held as a Fifa 20 video game over two hours.

The ePremier League Invitational Tournament is a charity event, with selected footballers gaming to raise funds for the NHS.

ePremier league International

ePremier League Invitational saw Premier League players competing

The BBC aired two digital sports events over the past weekend - the fourth and fifth stages of the Digital Swiss 5, a 37km cycle race over a digital recreation of the Schallenberg mountain; and the first leg of the Formula E Race at Home Challenge.

The race sees real drivers from the electric race car league competing across eight digital recreations of real tracks and is much closer to a digital recreation of the sport than a gaming version.

Formula One has also launched an esports replacement and is using a game, F1 2020, that falls in the middle of the simulator-game spectrum.

It is designed to provide for entertaining crossovers between the virtual and real worlds.

Vendors dedication to esports
Last week, The State University of New York (SUNY) launched a system-wide esports tournament to help support student emergency funds. Powered by Extreme Networks, a cloud-driven networking company, the SUNY Esports Chancellor Challenge offers a $20,000 prize pool to help aid in the #SUNYTogether Covid-19 educational relief efforts.

The tournament aims to foster an engaging and competitive virtual event as well as raise money for the Covid-19 relief efforts as colleges put forward teams to compete in various esporting tournaments.

Extreme Networks chief operating officer Norman Rice said: “Sports are a great unifier – be it on or off the field. In times where we aren’t able to come together in stadiums, fields, and arenas to cheer our favourite athletes, esports competition is an ideal way to keep students engaged with each other.”

Joining the virtual tournaments, Activision Blizzard and Sony Mobile Communications Inc, announced last week that the Call of Duty: Mobile World Championship 2020 Tournament would kick-off online 30 April.

Players ranked veteran or higher in Multiplayer will have the chance to compete to win exclusive Call of Duty: Mobile esports cosmetics and cash prizes. The tournament features more than $1 million in total prizes, sponsored by Sony Mobile.

Activision Blizzard has also worked with Grass Valley to help develop its new software as a service (SaaS) production platform, the GV AMPP (Agile Media Processing Platform), allows users to spin resources up or down on an as-needed basis.

It is using GV AMPP as a virtual control room and master-control solution to deliver live Overwatch League (OWL) and Call of Duty League (CDL) events to fans across the globe — with the entire crew located safely at their respective homes.

Sony has also introduced two new compact cameras – SRG-XP1 (POV) and SRG-XB25 (BOX) – that deliver 4K 60p images alongside full IP connectivity, expanding its remote camera line up and is set to be on the market from August.

The SRG-XP1 POV camera is capable of capturing video across a 100-degree wide horizontal viewing angle despite its compact, lightweight design. This is designed for recording reality shows and ideal in settings such as esports and remote meetings, where the entire location can be captured regardless of the installation position.

Finish line
Futuresource Consulting expects a boost in viewing of game streaming sites Amazon Twitch, YouTube Gaming and Microsoft Mixer according to a recent report.

Twitch viewership has seen a 12% year-on-year increase compared with March 2019, the analyst records, with rapid growth in viewers in the last few weeks. However, there has also been an increase in the number of monthly paying subscribers of which Amazon takes a significant cut.

There has also been an increase in the number of channels and content creators, with the young audience stuck at home due to school closures using the platform to interact with the outside world.

Despite Covid-19 the lines between esports and traditional sports have been blurring for some time as leagues and federations attempt to draw younger generations to their product with gamification.

Esports is even pitching to the official Olympic committee to be recognised as a sport for the Paris 2024 games.