Twitch’s Swanson: eSports Isn’t Going Anywhere

Other execs weigh in as well at FutureSource’s New Content Horizons

For many people, the idea of spending time online watching other people play videogames is laughable. Andy Swanson, VP/eSports evangelist for Amazon-owned live-streaming platform Twitch, has numbers that should silence the critics.

Andy Swanson, VP/e-sports evangelist, Twitch

Andy Swanson, VP/e-sports evangelist, Twitch

There’s no question eSports is a real and lasting phenomenon: in 2014, Twitch logged an estimated 90 million e-sport viewers, Swanson reported, speaking May 12 at FutureSource Consulting’s New Content Horizons event. He predicted that number will rise nearly 90% to 165 million by 2018. The worldwide revenue generated by eSports for Twitch was $194 million in 2014, he said, adding that, in 2018, it should rise nearly 300% to $765 million.

In the U.S., Twitch estimates, there are 36 million fans of eSports, a solid 12% of the population. They’re solidly male (78%) and average 40 minutes a week watching eSports. The category drew 1.4 billion views on Twitch in 2015.

And then there are the mega eSports events, big enough to earn coverage on ESPN’s SportsCenter: 6 million-10 million will watch one of the big four eSports tournaments (The International, League of Legends, DreamHack, and ESL One). The prize pool for this year’s International event hit more than $18 million.

“The engagement, the social interaction you find in live sports, you find the same in competitive gaming,” Swanson said. He added that those who are into eSports are perfectly fine with advertising because it legitimizes their chosen hobby.

Major programmers have noticed. On May 24, Turner will launch its ELEAGUE eSports offering, which will provide more than 30 hours of weekly competition live-streamed on digital outlets and will be featured on TBS regularly. It’s one of the rare attempts that have been made to bring professional, competitive videogames to broadcast.

Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports

Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports

“Our audience is anyone who watches video,” said Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports. “And we’ve gotten away from talking about it as TV.” Sports — and eSports — is one of the last bastions of “non-DVRable content” today, he added. “We as creators want to be everywhere.”

Carl Kirchhoff, president/founder, EverSport Media — which runs the popular, a live-sports-streaming portal handling 10,000-plus sports events a year — said traditional TV just doesn’t cut it when it comes to sports today. A fan shouldn’t have to choose between one or two games, he observed, but should be able to access all and do it concurrently. “The TV ecosystem didn’t allow us to do that. The technology wasn’t there.”

Sahara said it’s simply about connecting the consumer with sports content whenever and wherever they are. Part of the sports attraction with OTT is that it can become more customizable, he said. But not everything works, panelists agreed.

“For us, we’re very cautious,” he said. Some sports work digitally, he added; others don’t.

Kirchhoff shared a story about how one of his more surprising sports-stream success was NCAA women’s hockey. The reason for its success: “There are so many relatives around the world [who] want to watch it. The sports fans want to watch,” he added. “Just give them access.”

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