THE 'e' in eSPORTS STANDS for ENGAGEMENT
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
This article was originally published on May 9th, 2019.
Ever since video games first appeared on screen, people have been mesmerized and entertained by the industry.
The one aspect of gaming has grown the most is the notion of competitive gaming, whereby players pit against one another to determine a winner and a loser.
This aspect has developed into the now booming eSports industry, projected to reach nearly $3 billion in revenue, by 2022. The success of eSports has seen it be included in the 2022 Asian Games, while it is under consideration to be added as an Olympic sport.
Furthermore, the US Army has created an eSports team, to act as a marketing and recruitment initiative.
Anyone who believes that eSports has only been around for a few years is very much wrong.
The early days of competitive gaming date back to 1958 with the creating of the first real multiplayer game Tennis for Two. The game was played with an early form of the joystick, with which the players could hit the ball over the net and adjust its trajectory.
The first eSports-like tournament wouldn't take place until 1972, with the game Spacewar!, a game that had been developed ten years prior. The Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University would organize the tournament, called the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics. Twenty four players competed at the one-day tournament, with the winner receiving an annual subscription to Rolling Stones magazine.
In 1980, Atari would host the world's first major eSports tournament, with 10,000 players competing against each other at the Space Invaders Championships.
Competitive gaming would continue to grow over the next couple of decades, as digital playing became suitable for the masses through consoles and arcades.
The 2000s would see the industry start to be taken seriously, with the Championship Gaming Series, in 2007, announcing prize money of over $1 million.
In countries such as South Korea, eSports started to become popular as regular television programming. While the creation of Twitch, in 2011, offered the rest of the world the ability to join the excitement of competitive gaming as a spectator sport.
Modern Competitive Gaming
Now eSports is considered true competition to traditional sports, with eSports revenue expected to exceed $1 billion in 2019.
This year also welcomed the return of the Overwatch League, for its second season, with the addition of eight new franchises. Each franchise paying $20-$30 million in entry fees, for the opportunity to compete, while also bringing a multitude of new players into the professional circuit.
The league's first season provided eSports fans and sponsors with the opportunity to taste the potential of professional gaming tournaments. While it also offered Blizzard the opportunity to test new ways to engage and interact with sports fans.
Blizzard tested a number of small details, such as offering fans from around the world the ability to customize their viewing experiences using “professional observer tools,” which opened up the possibility of watching matches from different perspectives (i.e., first or third person or birds-eye), having playback options, using various keyboard shortcuts and more.
For a general sports fan, these details can seem insignificant, yet eSports fans have praised the ability to feel like they can engage, interact, and customize their viewing experiences.
The success of the first season of the Overwatch League did not go unnoticed, as ABC picked up the broadcasting rights, marking a significant step forward for competitive gaming's push towards mainstream awareness.
As the eSports industry becomes more mainstream, it is having to rapidly evolve, in able to interact with external stakeholders. Each day it is stepping into new territory, from new platforms trying to break into the industry to gambling companies looking to create in-game betting.
A key issue the sport has comes from how it engages with its audience. Mostly this is done through streaming platforms, which are not currently reaching their true potential for quality real-time broadcasts. Platforms are choosing to sacrifice quality and even delaying broadcasts for up to 90 seconds.
Again for a casual sports fan, these details may not seem a lot. However, over half of eSports consumers have stated that they would abandon a poor quality stream in 90 seconds.
Issues such as buffering and picture quality are becoming key for eSports moving forward, as it affects subscriber numbers and will later hit revenues.
Externally, the technological issues such as buffering and picture quality can be identified by sponsors who are looking to engage with an audience through streaming platforms. Without a guarantee from the industry that brands can engage with the eSports audience, additional advertising revenue could be left on the table. Therefore, technological issues must be taken more seriously if eSports is to articulate its value proposition to brands effectively.
Furthermore, for brand sponsors, most decision-makers have not grown up with eSports and are therefore not fully comfortable with it yet. The eSports industry needs to be able to articulate a more structured sponsorship inventory and more data to support asset valuations.
By showing value and eSports will have a story to tell, as long as the buffering stops.
Outwith brand sponsorships and technology issues the eSports industry must evolve for the fans. Camera controls and playback options, are only the start of a number of interactive features on an eSport's fans want list.
ESports fans don't want to just sit and watch they want to feel that they are engaging with the sport. Professional players can interact directly with fans via a live chat that runs beside their videos while on Twitch. This offers fans of eSports something that no other traditional sport can come close to, as there is no opportunity for a basketball fan to practicing shooting hoops with LeBron James.
Accessibility is eSport's greatest strength. The next steps the industry looks to be taking could follow these strengths including offering fans competitions through live streams and providing real-time feedback on the action
As the industry moves forward fans will want the full 360-degree experience, with access to statistics on their favorite players, the use of various camera angles, and even have private rooms to watch their favorites with their friends regardless of where they live, all in real-time. Companies are also making it possible to create in-game bets while watching live events.
A multiscreen ecosystem might be a little bit away, but a system used similar to that of NextVR's NBA viewing experience its a fantastic way to enhance interaction and engagement.
ESports shows no sign of slowing down. Leagues such as NBA 2K League and the Overwatch League are enjoying early success. Amazon would even purchase Twitch for $1 billion in 2014 and has continued to help the platform grow as eSports have.
In 2017, the International Olympic Committee acknowledged the massive popularity of eSports around the world and has left open the possibility that eSports could one day be an Olympic sport. As the industry continues to grow and gain respect as a real sport among more organizations around the world, the sky is the limit for eSports, as long as it continues to focus on engaging with fans.