'2021 - THE YEAR THAT ESPORTS GOES MAINSTREAM' : Report

30th November 2020

Author : James Phillips 

 

On Tuesday 24th November, CSM Live hosted 5 expert panellists to explore ‘What’s next for Esports?’. The conversation was chaired by Lisa Jenkins – Vice President & brand experiences at CSM Live and featured; Chris Overholt – President & CEO, OverActive Media, Johanna Faries – Commissioner, Call of Duty League, Alban Dechelotte – Head of Partnerships & Business Development at Riot Games, and Nazar Syrotiuk, Global Emerging Technology Manager at Nestlé.

 

Covid-19 has proved to be the biggest challenge that the global sports & events industry has had to deal with in the last century. It is an issue that has tested the financial credibility and resilience of sports, requiring updated models and methods of practice that will continue to be implemented deep into the foreseeable future. However, a time of such struggle and forced adaptation for ‘traditional sports’ was not similarly reflected on the esports industry, so much so that 2020 - 2021 has been considered ‘the year that Esports went mainstream’. With viewership growing 215% in 2020 and digital ad revenue growing $175 million, the industry illustrated its aptitude to operate effectively & grow in environments that traditional sports could not.

 

To start the discussion the question posed was ‘Has esports already gone mainstream?’ The answer a resounding yes from all 5 panellists. Data and statistics surrounding; viewership, participation and financial growth suggests that esports can no longer be considered secondary to traditional sports. The growth and development of the esports industry in the last year alone has already highlighted the emerged similar traits that can be now comparable to ‘mainstream’ traditional sports such as the likes of ‘football, cricket and rugby’. Alban noted that the transfer of esports gamer – Rekless from Fnatic to G2 produced similar numbers in terms of viewership and likes across social media as news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2018 move from Real Madrid to Juventus. In terms of engagement alone, esports properties, competitions and tournaments in their most nascent form are already reflecting similar numbers to the Super Bowl on ‘any given Tuesday. But why is the world not talking about it? Johanna Faries quoted that the global sports & events industry and the media cannot keep up with the exponential growth that the esports industry is experiencing. Negative connotations associated with esports & gaming in older more conservative generations has restricted the coverage, outreach and profile of global esports tournaments and organisations. This is despite financial, viewership and growth figures exceeding that of ‘American football’ when at the same period since establishment of the sports.

 

However, from ‘chaos there comes opportunity’. The growth in technological capability and the increased accessibility of; playing consoles, tablets and computers has been pivotal to gaining the ‘wrapped attention of millennials and generation z’. This attention and accessibility to be able to ‘participate in, stream and watch’ esports has been pivotal in the growth over recent years, with demand projected to continue to double over the next 3 years. The next transitional phase for esports therefore is ‘clearing the discussed negative perceptions of gaming and esports that currently exists. The sport can no longer be perceived a niche or developing in the industry ‘it is an established and recognisable sport with growth opportunities that are incomprehensible to anyone in the sports & technology industry.

 

As the discussion continued a more commercial approach was considered. The opportunities for non-endemic brands to break into the industry and capitalise on the growth opportunities of esports exceeds those of any other Industry, said Lisa Jenkins. A common theme highlighted was ‘the unique access esports can provide to the notoriously hard to reach 18-25 demographic’. As Nazar reasoned, “through esports, brands can reach the unreachable – those who don’t have linear TV but watch Netflix instead.” Not only will you reach them, you will likely be encountered by an audience refreshingly receptive to brand involvement. As Alban explained, “simply by being there, brands are validating their passion and treating it as legitimate. And they are thankful for that. It’s a type of relationship I have not seen anywhere else, not in rugby, not in football”. Esports can truly provide a platform to reach the unreachable.

The beauty of esports and the commercial opportunities for brands is the ‘ diversity of consumers, players & viewers’, it is an open space that has next to no boundaries for entry’,  “it is accessible, inclusive, dynamic & without any physical or mental constraints that are often situated with other sports. “It’s an interactive audience willing to take action, share a hashtag or retweet a promotion, which should excite any brand.”

 

So what is the key for brands getting it right when thinking about a partnership in esports? The wealth of stories, case studies and examples of success of commercial partners entering the esports industry, should be enough to get any brand excited to enter the industry. Finding an entry point that is consistent with the brands values and seeking collaborations with industry experts is crucial, Chris Overholt explained. Finding “the right partner or agency who can lead you on your journey by the hand.”

 

Sustainability was a core topic highlighted throughout the webinar, it is a crucial area all sports organisations and brands must consider when preparing for ‘uncertain future environments’ and pressing issues such as Covid-19. However, in line with the general movement and development of the esports industry there was positivity when discussing the sustainability of esports. There are huge opportunities provided by the ‘closed league, franchise system which creates a new sustainable revenue model for the industry, Johanna explained it could ‘eclipse the traditional sports model’  

 

To conclude the discussion the guest speakers continued to illustrate that esports is only just at the start of its growth and commercial brands previously or currently engaged in traditional sports, not considering esports in their long-term business & marketing plans are behind schedule and failing – Chris Overholt

The future for the sport and events industry in a post Covid environment will be unexplainably different to the pre Covid normal. The virtual environment in which we currently operate within will be here to say and esports is at the forefront of this development and innovation. The efficiencies speak for themselves and the growth potential of the industry is something that would be criminal to overlook.

 

For more information on CSM Live's Webinars see their website here 

Or for more information on the Global Esports Industry please see  : Newzoo's 'Global Esports Market Report'