People have long craved an escape from the monotony of the world and used the fantasy of gaming to satisfy this urge. Historically, spending every waking minute gaming has been perceived as a geeky behaviour in the western world. However, these hours are now paying handsome dividends due to the meteoric rise in popularity of both participating in online gaming and watching online gaming. In South Korea most streets have gaming cafés filled with gamers for long periods of the day. In fact, congress there enforced a curfew preventing post-midnight gaming for under 16s. This created uproar in the gaming world who found support in a gaming congressman, also head of the Korean esports association, who cleverly gained votes from this demographic.
In Seoul, South Korea there are dedicated esports stadiums which fill with more and more video game fanatics each year. There are several global leagues, the most popular of which is organised by game owner Riot Games, called League of Legends. The 2014 world championship complete with professional commentators, called shoutcasters, reportedly drew a bigger audience that the equivalent NBA finals (the world we live in blog). League of legends is accompanied by expensive CGI and attracted American rock band Imagine Dragons, to open the world championships. According to Vice.com there are more league of legends players than the population of France and a reported 67 million monthly users, with esportsearnings.com showing players from 95 different countries. Fans come to watch their online heroes in gaming battles which can last a whole weekend. They are able to interact with the gamers by shining a light to show which team they are supporting and fans go crazy for free memorabilia, also known as swag. Gamescom, a gaming event in Cologne attracted over 300,000 visitors making it the highest attended game event in the world.
The table below, populated using figures sourced from esportsearnings.com show the dramatic rise in popularity and prize money up for grabs.
|Year||Total Active Players||No. of Tournaments||Total Prize Money|
According to pixelkin.com and esportsearnings.com there is an obvious gender split with the 100th highest earning female taking home $1,000 USD, with the top 2 players earning in the region of $100,000 USD. The male game is worlds apart with the top players earning in excess of $1,000,000 USD.
Games usually have similar characteristics, requiring skill, strategy and speed. The need for fast reflexes and hours of practice required means that old teens to college students are the key demographic of this movement. US colleges are even offering scholarships to players who can compile a legend of league team. Super league gaming is on the horizon, with younger children meeting in movie theatres to play together, with global leaderboards for teams and individuals.
Streamed live on Twitch.TV, the 2013 league of legends world championships drew 32 million online viewers (pixelkin.com) leading to Amazon acquiring Twitch.TV in August 2014 for a reported $970 million USD (the wall street journal). ESPN trialled broadcasting esports, shooting them to the top of Twitter trends and also streamed some content via their streaming platform ESPN3. Esports have also featured during the X Games with call of duty and counter strike contests. However, ESPN seem unlikely to broadcast these events again due to their perceived lack of ‘sport status’. In reality Esports will probably thrive without advert interrupted content making streaming is more favourable, especially given the long format of the competitions. Esports therefore provides digital partnering and advertising opportunities, not to mention event sponsorship. Samsung sponsor teams (Samsung White were the 2014 league of legends champions), while Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Nissan also have associations with the movement.
KSI, a 22-year-old FIFA video blogger, has attracted over 2.1 billion views and occupies the second most watched YouTube channel in the UK. He has 11.3 million subscribers and is a millionaire via advertising, merchandising and music ventures, proving the industry’s growth.
According to vice.com, Europe biggest esports hope, Fnatic, have seen their Facebook following increase from 200,000 to 1.4 million in 18 months, competing with Premier League football team’s Facebook following, only behind the league’s top 4. There is a host of Fnatic products which are incredibly popular worldwide, with comparisons made between the number of shirts worn during Gamescom and Manchester United shirts worn at Old Trafford.
The debate over whether esports can be classified as a sport will run and run, what cannot be disputed is the power of its movement within a demographic which has been notoriously difficult to exchange with. Marketers, ignore esports at your peril.
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