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Esports Is Filling The Programming Void

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The coronavirus has wreaked havoc with live sports programming and sports fans everywhere. Television networks are scrambling to fill the programming void without basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and other live sports. To fill the programming void (but not the ad revenue void), ESPN, Fox Sports and other networks have been airing replays, sports-themed movies, documentaries and esports. Esports is competitive video gaming, usually played by professional gamers and watched by spectators.

 

Esports on TV | 

Although esports is primarily available for viewing online, televising live esports is not new. Over the past five years, a number of cable and broadcast networks have televised esports, including ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, DisneyXD. The NFL Network, TBS, CW and even CBS. In July 2017, CBS televised Candy Crush Saga in prime time and averaged four million viewers.

 

In recent weeks, more esports contests have been appearing on television. ESPN created a branded ESPN Esports Day which included 12 hours of programming on April 5. Included in the programming were televised virtual games from Madden NFL20, Formula 1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix, Rocket League (which combines soccer with rocket-powered cars) and the opening round of a 16-team NBA 2K20 tournament event. For the NBA 2K20 tournament, players included NBA stars (and video game aficionados) Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell (both recovering from the coronavirus), Trae Young and the tournament winner, Devin Booker. Booker won $100,000 to be donated to coronavirus relief efforts.

 

Fox Sports has also been televising esports on their networks, including a Madden 20 tournament featuring former quarterback Michael Vick and other NFL players. Derwin James, a safety on the Los Angeles Chargers, won the eight-player tournament, defeating Vick in the championship game. FS1 also televised an eNASCAR pro Invitational iRacing Series that averaged an impressive 903,000 viewers. Up next on Fox Sports is the inaugural eMLS Tournament.

 

Esports Online | 

With the coronavirus and persons quarantined, esports has been flourishing online. As reported by StreamLabs and Stream Hatchet, Twitch, YouTube and Facebook all reported significant increases with online viewing in first quarter 2020. As an example, Amazon’s Twitch reached a record high 3.1 billion hours watched, up 17% from the previous quarter. Twitch also reported a 33% growth in unique channels and record high in average concurrent viewing with 1.4 million.

 

In first quarter 2020, YouTube reported 1.1 billion hours watched, an increase of 13% when compared to fourth quarter 2019. YouTube also reported a record high 500,000 concurrent viewers during the quarter. Facebook Gaming also had a strong quarter, reaching 554 million hours. This growth in gaming was validated by Verizon, which reported that, since the quarantine, video game usage in the U.S during peak hours grew by 75%. By comparison, overall web traffic was up by 20%, video streaming usage increased by 12% and social media usage was flat. Twitter said conversations about esports grew by 71% during the second half of March (when the coronavirus pandemic impacted live TV sports), compared to the first two weeks of the month.

 

Revenue | 

Esports’ popularity has been on the upswing for years. According to NewZoo’s latest Global esports Market Report from February 2020, global revenue will reach $1.1 billion in 2020 with China the largest market ($385 million). This is an increase of 15.7% from 2019 and more than double the revenue of 2016. NewZoo projects revenue to surpass $1.5 billion in 2023. Sponsorship is the largest revenue source, contributing 58% to the total, followed by media rights at 17% and merchandise/ticket sales at 11%.

 

Audience |

Globally, the awareness of esports has also grown substantially. In 2020, 1.955 billion people were aware of esports, compare to 1.1 billion in 2016. The esports audience will reach 495 million worldwide in 2020, with 223 million defined as frequent viewers/enthusiasts and 272 million occasional viewers. This is a sizeable increase from 2016, when there were 121 million frequent viewers/enthusiasts and 160 million occasional viewers. Its projected by 2022 there will be close to 300 million frequent viewers/enthusiasts to esports.  

 

A McKinsey report said in the U.S., there are over 20 million esports fans, 83% are male and 84% are younger than 35. Among U.S. men under age 25, 38% are esports fans and on average watch nearly one hour of esports each day. Furthermore, 10% of esports fans report watching over 20 hours per week, although only 13% responded that esports is the only sport they watch. Among 18-34 viewers, the League of Legends is now the third most popular professional sports league after the NBA and NFL.

 

Video gamers between the ages of 18-25 spend 77% more time watching other players online than watching broadcast sports. A Nielsen analysis found over 60% of esports fans on Twitch do not watch linear TV on a weekly basis at all and half don’t have a paid TV subscription. The people in this age group are among the lightest viewers of television, are heavy users of streaming content, grew up playing video games and are a popular demographic to target among advertisers.

 

Advertisers | 

Since esports has a desirable viewing demographic and is growing in popularity, more “blue-chip” advertisers are sponsoring events. There are many opportunities and strategies for esports sponsorships. Nielsen reports sponsorships can range from on-air signage and branded content to digital overlays and apparel. Esports has evolved from experiential marketing for numerous advertisers. Many product categories targeting young males sponsor esports. The list includes soft drinks, quick service restaurants, consumer electronics, automotive, apparel, financial services, telecom and insurance companies. eMarketer projects ad revenue for eSports will reach $214 million in 2020, a 20% increase from $178 million in 2019.

 

Gambling | 

With live sports on hold, casinos, which would have booked hundreds of millions of dollars with live sporting events are looking at esports to recapture some of the lost revenue. In April,  Nevada Gaming Control permitted wagering on multiple esports events. This could popularize esports even more. Sports gambling has now been legalized in 17 states.

 

The coronavirus is expected to quicken trends already happening in the entertainment and sports industry. For example, consumers could subscribe to more streaming video content bolstered by several new launches. Cash-strapped consumers could accelerate cord-cutting. Studios could release movies in theaters and for at-home viewing simultaneously. Some newspapers may entirely forego printed editions and produce only online content. To this list you can also add broadcasters, who may add more esports to their programming lineups in order to reach a coveted younger audience”

 

Esports Coronavirus Quarantine Indoor Sports

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In the Quarantine Age, an indoor sport seizes center stage

Four men appeared on my television at 2 p.m. in neat rectangles. The backgrounds varied. Barren white walls in one, a few frames in another. A window, some furniture. They all had headsets. One wore a burgundy suit and tie. The others went more casual in the confines of their homes.

The gathering resembled the Zoom video chats we have staged with coworkers and friends since the coronavirus outbreak shut down pretty much everything. But this setting was different than our virtual happy hours and mundane meetings.

It was the broadcast for the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). League of Legends, a multiple-player online battle arena game developed by Riot Games and released in 2009, is the most popular esports title in the world with up to eight million gamers logging on daily to play on their computers. The LCS, which was created in 2012, is the game’s highest level of competition in North America.

It is also one of the few remaining live entertainment options afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands were concurrently watching the stream, presented by a large mainstream advertiser, State Farm, on Twitch and YouTube. It was back online after a one-week hiatus, pushing forward when much of society had skidded to a halt. The matches, regularly held in West Los Angeles in front of a few hundred fans, were staged remotely.

“We feel like we’re weathering the storm pretty well,” LCS commissioner Chris Greeley said, “but obviously, as it is for everyone, it’s still a storm.”

I’m a casual gamer. Stick and ball sports were my preference growing up, though in recent years my time has been limited to playing shooters online with friends. It’s a social activity, and one of the few available since COVID-19 arrived. After downloading the game on my laptop, I tried following along with the ad hoc broadcast, curious and confused. I didn’t know the rules or the point of the game but, holed up in my apartment, I welcomed the live competition. The pickings have never been slimmer on a Saturday afternoon.

This should be one of the most exciting periods on the sports calendar. The NCAA Tournament going mad, the start of baseball season, battles for playoff seeding in the NBA, the Masters right around the next magnolia bush, even the XFL for a football fix if mock NFL drafts didn’t suffice.

But those events were postponed for the foreseeable future, if not canceled completely, leaving playing video games — and watching others play them — as two of the limited choices left to sate our social and entertainment thirst. As stadiums and arenas go silent, there is a growing din in a corner of the landscape that until now has largely been drowned out by more traditional, mainstream sports.

It’s coming from the more than 150 million Americans who identify as gamers, and not just the influencers who have become wealthy stars: Ninja, PewDiePie, PrestonPlayz, Markiplier. It’s NBA stars challenging each to other to Call of Duty; teens playing Fortnite at 3 a.m. on indefinite leave from school; 9-to-5 workers at home sneaking in FIFA games between Zoom meetings. It’s me.

Esports were built for the quarantine culture because, to some degree, isolation always has been a part of its DNA. And with hundreds of millions now shut in for the time being, an already robust community senses an opportunity.

“It is an absolutely terrible thing that’s happening around the world,” Ryan Friedman said. “Obviously, it’s a huge net negative, but with the cancellation of traditional sports, a lot of people who would have never given esports a chance are going to start at least looking into it and that’s a good opportunity for esports to draw in a bunch of new viewers.”

Friedman is the chief of staff of Dignitas, an organization with teams in various esports acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2016. He is also the younger brother of Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations. While Andrew’s team sat idle on opening day last week, wondering if Major League Baseball would have a 2020 season, Ryan’s franchise, one of the 10 in the LCS, stayed busy.

Esports — broadly defined as professional competition using video games — had several major events on the calendar canceled, but most entities have been able to continue competition knowing an amplified audience is available. Evidence of the opportunity is found on Twitch, the go-to streaming platform for casual and professional gaming.

People are streaming and watching streams more than ever since the outbreak began taking hold, according to and TwitchTracker.com and SullyGnome.com, which monitor Twitch audiences. The platform has set all-time highs this month in peak daily active users (22.7 million), average concurrent viewers (1.6 million), and number of streamers (65,000).

“In esports, the show can go on,” esports lawyer Bryce Blum said. “We can transition back to our roots.”

The increase has not, however, been as uniform for conventional esports events. A few esports have seen instant growth in viewers, such as Rocket League and the ESL Pro League, a 24-team Counter-Strike: Global Offensive competition that recently enjoyed its most-watched broadcast day in history. Conversely, League of Legends has experienced a year-over-year jump of around 20,000 viewers on Twitch this month, but has seen a dip since the LCS opened its spring season to great fervor in late January.

The industry is nascent but not new with consumers around the world. Money has flooded into the space over the last decade to fuel a booming enterprise that has eclipsed $1 billion globally. And plenty of that capital has been supplied by leaders in traditional sports.

In 2016, Dodgers co-owner Peter Guber and Ted Leonsis, owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals, led a group that bought controlling interest in Team Liquid, recognized as the most successful esports organization in history. Dan Gilbert, owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, invested in an organization and the Golden State Warriors founded one in 2017.

The infusion accelerated the industry’s expansion. Live competitions with massive audiences became common. Events filled Staples Center and Madison Square Garden. Millions of dollars have been awarded to players in different games, and several players boast career earnings of more than $1 million.

In recent weeks, traditional sports entities with esports partnerships have turned to the virtual world after their schedules were abruptly detonated. Leonsis’ Monumental Sports and Entertainment Group recently began airing one-hour video game simulations of previously scheduled Wizards and Capitals games on NBC Sports Washington. Formula 1 ran a race with professional drivers and gamers that aired on Twitch. On Friday, MLB held a tournament with four major leaguers on MLB: The Show 20 and steamed it on different platforms.

NASCAR aired a virtual version of the Dixie Vodka 150 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on FOX two Sundays ago with the participants using racing simulators remotely. The real-life NASCAR racers who participated were not rookies to the platform — racers have used virtual simulators as practice tools for the real thing for years. The results were proof.

Denny Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, edged out retired driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win in a $40,000 iRacing rig at his house, barefoot with his daughter cheering behind him. NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon was one of three people on the call for the 35-car race from a studio in Charlotte. The inaugural event drew more than 900,000 viewers, making it the highest-rated esports television program in history.

On Sunday, Timmy Hill, a 27-year-old pro driver who has never won a NASCAR Cup Series race, won the second virtual race at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR chief digital officer Tim Clark said the plan is to continue staging virtual versions of its races, following the usual schedule, until its season resumes. As it stands, the on-track season is suspended until May 9.

For its part, the League of Legends Championship Series confronted the coronavirus outbreak like traditional sports leagues, realizing quickly that continuing as usual was irresponsible.

A day after announcing plans to proceed without a studio audience, media and non-essential personnel, the league on March 13 postponed that weekend’s competition entirely. Four days later, the league announced it was going remote for the foreseeable future.

Greeley, the commissioner, said the decision was not easy. In-person events not only make for better entertainment, but better competition. Playing remotely could lead to slower connections, which impacts gameplay. And players are less supervised, opening opportunities for cheating. The league spent the next week devising a plan to limit network issues and rule-breaking.

On Wednesday, LCS announced the rest of the season, including the finals, which originally were scheduled to be held in a 12,000-seat stadium at the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility in Frisco, Texas, April 18-19, would take place online.

“We can play from home,” said Steve Arhancet, co-owner and CEO of Team Liquid, the reigning LCS champions. “That makes us a much more resilient entertainment industry when it comes to competitive sports.”

The 10-team LCS returned from its one-week postponement with five matches. The battles comprised Week 8 of the competition’s spring split. A team named Cloud 9 won both of its matches, improving its league-best record in the march toward a $200,000 prize pool to supplement player salaries that average more than $300,000.

 

Twitch partners with Comscore

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Twitch partners with Comscore on esports audience data

 

Amazon’s live streaming platform Twitch will provide more data about esports and gaming viewership as part of a deal with Comscore. The media measurement company will quantify video metrics such as minutes spent and content minutes per ad minute on Twitch, per an announcement.

Comscore will provide third-party data and insights into Twitch’s audiences in the U.S. and Canada, with the goal of helping advertisers to understand the video consumption habits of those consumers. The data can help marketers to identify key audience segments and adjust their ad campaigns to reach consumers.​

Comscore is also working to expand its integration with Twitch to additional markets and to offer advertisers category- and genre-level audience data. The goal is to help advertisers understand viewership trends in live-streamed gaming and esports, Carol Hinnant, chief revenue officer at Comscore, said in a statement.

 

Insight:

 

As brands look for ways to reach Twitch’s growing audience for live-streamed gaming and esports programming, they could welcome more capabilities around third-party data, which can help measure the effectiveness of campaigns and hone marketing strategies. By working with Comscore, Twitch is taking a step to provide more transparency about the viewing habits of its audiences, including how much time they spend watching sponsorship messages and live-streamed content.

That information helps to provide a more complete picture of Twitch’s user base, which researcher eMarketer forecast could grow by 14% to 37.5 million this year and reach about 16% of the U.S. audience for digital video. Part of that growth can be attributed to Twitch’s expansion beyond video game streaming and into live events.

Twitch this week signed a three-year deal with the National Women’s Soccer League to stream regular-season games within the U.S., and the entire season outside the country. Twitch has also streamed NFL, NBA G League and National Women’s Hockey League games. However, Twitch also faces growing competition from YouTube Gaming, Facebook Gaming and Microsoft Mixer, which have expanded their audiences and lured away popular influencers and content creators that initially gained fame and followers on Twitch.

Additionally, Comscore’s data could help glean more insights into the audience for esports events, whose viewership is set to surge more than 50% to 46.2 million viewers by 2023, eMarketer forecast last year. More complete data about esports audiences can help to support industry growth as sponsors seek to measure ROI and other metrics.

Brands looking to reach these millions of fans were expected to boost sponsorship spending by 34% to $457 million last year, games researcher Newzoo predicted. Already, brands such as AT&T, Axe, Hershey and Snickers have piled into esports sponsorships to connect with younger audiences who are elusive to other media outlets.