So everybody knows that championship sporting events get more spectators both in person and on TV than just about anything else. The Super Bowl, The World Cup, The NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup Finals are just a few that come to mind with millions of viewers each. What a lot of us do not realize is that some of eSports biggest stages come with just as many, if not more viewers than these classic sports favorites.
A video game that goes by the name of League of Legends, or LOL, had 32 million people view their 2013 world championships with 8.5 million of them being live at the time of the event. Did I mention that all of these viewers were from online streaming sites such as Twith.tv or Youtube? That many viewers without a network television sponsor is incredible! Talk about an untapped market! For reference, The United States vs Ghana World Cup game that took place just this last Monday had just under 16 million viewers, which was a new high for a US soccer event. Additionally, the 2012 Olympics online stream peaked at just over 500,000 simultaneous viewers as compared to LOL’s 8.5 million. That is almost 20 times as many viewers! If you think about just one more fact about this comparison, the World Cup and Olympics only happen once every four years, whereas the LOL world championships happen annually. LOL’s All Star Game surpassed the number of viewers of the 2014 NFL Probowl by over 6 million viewers. What does that tell us? It tells us that not only are people interested in watching eSports, but they are also dedicated viewers.
As we look to the future of online streaming’s role in network television, you can see that already, networks are offering streaming services alongside their standard television services.
So why is it that so many people are drawn to these eSports? For one, it is the engagement level. When spectating a pro sports game, you watch it almost exclusively for the viewing entertainment. To put into the format of the famous Boromir meme, “one does not simple ‘watch’ eSports.” By this I mean that with LOL and many other eSports alike, you are watching for entertainment yes, but also to learn new techniques and strategies. In real sports, the rules are primarily the same every game of every season, whereas in eSports, the structure of the game is ever changing on a monthly and even weekly basis. The interactions between eSports Celebrities and their fans are also very involved! This is due in part to the fact that game servers are based on geographic location and not on skill level. Everyone from novice to professional that lives in North America is on a server together.
From this point, players are matched together based on skill level. That means Hypothetically, if a pro where to play on a team with a bunch of beginners, and I were to play on a team with a bunch of very good amateurs, we could possibly be matched together.
How do we monetize these large factions of eSports viewing populations? Dare I say advertising? I do. Not only do these viewers come in great quantities, but they also come as geographically diverse, yet socially similar consumers. If you asked just about anyone to describe the desk of a Super-Gamer, they would spout out a list of its contents most definitely including computer screens, energy drinks, and an egregious amount of empty pizza boxes. As far as stereotypes go, this one is spot on. I would consider myself a soft-core eSports enthusiast, and even at my novice level, my personal desk has no less than two out of three of these contents at any given moment. Clearly these are the products that should be battling for advertisement space. That being said, I would get embarrassed) . Although a small window, it is a lot more realistic than running into Derek Jeter at your local baseball diamond. This window of possibility for contact with the greats of eSports, whether it is an illusion or not, is what truly engages eSports players.
It is always interesting to see what trends stick in emerging markets such as this one. The real question is how do we monetize this trend?
If we do some simple math here, the Super Bowl brought in 112 million viewers this year and was able to charge right around $4 million for a 30-second ad slot. If we assume that this number is set purely by the number of viewers (even though we know there are a few other factors involved) that would put the price of a 30-second LOL Championship advertisement at $1.14 million. Now clearly this is an impractical valuation at this point in time, but who is to say that it remain that way?