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The rise and rise of eSports: the new media industry favourite- part 1

October 18, 2019

Dhaval Ponda   

Global Head of Sales, Media and Entertainment Services, Tata Communications

With the huge gaming event EGX 2019 currently on in London, we consider the growing rate of eSports and the potential it brings for broadcasters. In part 1, Dhaval Ponda takes a look at the eSports landscape and some of the challenges media outlets will need to surpass, to get ahead of the game. 

It is no surprise that video gaming and especially mobile gaming is a wildly popular social activity today. What many of more traditional entertainment providers were surprised by was how quickly gaming also became a spectator sport.

Back in 2014 people were debating the sheer potential of eSports, with many of them sceptical of gaming becoming a viable and sustainable career option. Now, with platforms like YouTube, Twitch and Mixer opening up the world of video game streaming, and the news of the 2019 Fortnite World Cup competition winner bringing home three million US dollars, it’s evident that the industry is growing at a tremendous pace. Games like DOTA 2, Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), are amongst the few video games that generate huge numbers of fans across the globe.

Recent insights suggest that this market is slated to touch 1.1 billion USD by the end of the current year, showing a growth of about 27% over last year.  And, according to market researchers Newzoo, the video gaming industry will be altogether worth $180.1 billion by 2021.

“A clear marker of pop culture and the subsequent Gen Z, this is mainstream entertainment of the future, with an 18% CAGR expected over the next five years.”

Big media players are on top of this trend, aggressively investing in the eSports market. As a media services professional, what I find fascinating is the interest of mainstream broadcasters in this space. With multi-million-dollar media rights bought by the likes of ESPN and Sky to stream eSports events, it is quickly becoming the next exponential growth driver for the market.

However, there is a twist in the tale. Unlike traditional broadcasting, the competition in this market is not just between mainstream broadcasters, but also OTT players and social media giants.

“Given the highly immersive nature of eSports, the eventual winner in this market will be the one that can deliver a seamless and interactive viewer experience across devices.”

eSports is attractive. It is also challenging.

With over 400 million estimated eSports viewers in 2019 its allure is undeniable. That said, delivering eSports globally has its challenges.

It is a new-age, hi-tech sport that is followed by young, tech-savvy and demanding viewers. At the same time, there are too many players from across the globe competing and too much happening simultaneously, making it difficult to follow everything in depth.

“In such a scenario, high-quality snippets and insightful highlights become critical for keeping viewers engaged.”

Given the audience demographic, there is a need to interact with the fellow viewers on social media and other platforms to discuss the game, share opinions and predict results. It’s a high stakes scenario, given that there is significant spending capacity at play here – broadcast, gaming software, hardware and so on. Let’s not forget that viewers could be players themselves and thus may have ‘real skin in the game’ themselves.

These factors contribute to making it a complex challenge. Some of the challenges for broadcasters, operationally and technologically, are:

  • eSports is an expanding market but even with the ever-growing number of fans and revenue streams, it is not regarded globally on the same level as mainstream sports like basketball, soccer or cricket yet. This means that content owners will need to have a lean production model that keeps costs in check. This is on the cusp of change with brands like adidas and Nike taking interest in gaming stars for sponsorship – the big bucks are coming so early adopters will benefit.
  • Multiple cameras, cutaways, reactions, commentary – on the go/real-time and intensive editing… All this needs superior connectivity and new-age broadcast technology that is built on the backs of robust digital infrastructure.
  • To achieve growth and economies of scale, tapping new markets is the key. This will bring in a larger, more diverse viewership and in turn higher revenues. Broadcasters need to give viewers a reason to switch from the “traditional” digital platforms that stimulated the growth of this industry.
  • Media rights for traditional sports are fairly straightforward because no one owns soccer, cricket or tennis. With eSports, it’s much more complex since the gaming company owns the content.

 

The question is what’s next, how can broadcasters prepare for it and get involved with the wider opportunities around the gaming industry. I’ll be speculating on this in part 2 of ‘The rise and rise of eSports’, being released next week. While you wait, discover more about successful sports broadcasting in the digital age from my previous blog, here.