Live from CES 2017: eSports Revolution Enters Evolutionary Stage
The eSports revolution is one that might be outside of the grasp of American’s in generation X and above but its popularity among Millennials has allowed for eSports outlets like Twitch and Plays.TV to grab a mindshare and timeshare advantage compared to traditional broadcast and cable TV outlets. But Turner Sports will once again put eSports front and center at the end of January and the lessons learned from year will allow the network to refine the product and make it even more compelling.
“It’s going great but I am not going to say that everything was perfect last year and we learned something during every single broadcast, season, and even from match to match,” said Christina Alejandre, Turner Sports, GM of ELeague and VP of eSports during a panel discussion on eSports at CES last week.
Alejandre says that the network succeeded on delivering an authentic eSports experience to viewers and fans and avoided making it feel overly produced for TV. And the biggest lesson for year is that less is more.
“The first season was way too long and overlapped with a lot of different tournaments,” said Alejandre. For example, the teams that faced off in the final of the second part of the season played in another tournament final the following weekend.
“We’re having an open dialogue with other tournament operators and trying to establish ourselves as the premiere tournament, organizer, and diversify our portfolio of games,” she explained.
Nick Allen, TWITCH, vice president of eSports, says one of the challenges for the eSports industry moving forward is that individual tournament organizers are running tournaments on top of one another and on the same weekend.
“There is a big tournament every weekend, unlike traditional sports, and fans will see the same matchup the next week and the risk is players get burned out and fans lose interest,” he said. “We’re seeing less interest in a lot of tournaments because it’s just another tournament to watch.”
The industry went through this before as Allen said there was oversaturation in 2013 and 2014.
“We really care about the long-term viability of the sport,” he added.
Dennis Fong, founder and CEO of Plays.TV, an online portal where games can share and watch highlights of game action, said that one way for tournaments to combat any issues of oversaturation of tournaments is to give the tournament a narrative with a story arc.
“If it is a one-off tournament over a weekend there is no time for the viewers to feel invested in the teams or the storyline,” he said.
All the action around eSports has brands stepping up and diving in, according to Alejandre. For example Arby’s, which was involved with the ELeague last year, found that the studio audience embraced it so much that they would chant “Arby’s!” during the broadcast.
“How many live events have fans in the stands chanting sponsor names?,” said Alejandre. “More and more brands are embracing eSports.”
Imari Oliver, IMG, VP Global Partnerships, says that the quality of the tournaments is what matter rather than the quantity, especially for brands that are trying to figure out how they can capitalize on the eSports market.
“Those who control the brands are risk averse by nature but they are interested and intrigued by eSports and see a lot of opportunities,” he explained. “But the beauty of what Twitch and Turner’s ELeague have done is exposed the sport to new cultures. The relationship for things like sneakers and eSports is just at the beginning and eSports is just beginning to shift into mainstream culture.”
Allen said that one of the key reasons for the increasing interest in eSports is that with traditional sports rights locked up for the foreseeable future there is a hole for those who want to pursue fresh content.
“It’s going to be a multi-year process of educating brands about the value of eSports and that education has to go all the way to the top where executives make large marketing decisions,” he explained.
Bryan de Zayas, director of Dell Gaming, said the passion of the gamers is something brands want to be associated with.
“If you tap into that you will have a fan for the rest of their lives,” he said, adding that Dell has a studio for Twitch coverage that is used 24 hours a week.
“It shows our commitment to this industry and you can’t just be a media buy,” he said. “You have to be into it.”