So there I am. The eSports fan who doubles as a working professional, taking my first trip to Las Vegas, to attend the first ever eSports Business Summit. Thousands of things were running through my head, trying to figure out what to make of this event before I showed up in Vegas. I’m generally the outsider here, and though that’s where I usually find myself in any situation, the first annual eSports Business Summit was different for me. I was consulting on this. I was the expert. I’m never the expert. I’m the guy that disagrees with the expert based on my actual experience. Not only was I consulting but I was consulting based on my vast knowledge of the gaming industry and my somewhat less vast knowledge of the burgeoning eSports industry. My vast knowledge doesn’t come from a business interest or anything of the sort. I’m the enthusiast. I’m the guy they want to monetize, and that mindset put me in a bit of a strange place initially. How do I translate this knowledge to see where Ambassador Studios can fit itself into the big metaphorical money pie? I digress. I quickly learned, however, most companies understand their position within the landscape at this point and also understand the potential. Take Overwatch League for example. When Blizzard started Overwatch League, they said that anyone could buy into the league, but minimum buy-in for a team was ten-million USD. Ten-million dollars to own a team that plays video games? Who would possibly invest that kind of money? Your usual suspects are there: Cloud9, OpTic, et cetera. But who are these other guys? The Krafts, Stan Kroenke, and Comcast also own teams. Yes, they’re all guys with money to burn but it does tell you one thing at the very least; they’re paying attention. Back to the Business Summit. With my skepticism somewhat assuaged by their seeming authenticity, I was all on board to learn.
Fortnite and Viewership
If 2018, and Fortnite more specifically, has taught us anything, it is that gaming is mainstream. Everyone you know is playing or has a friend or family member that is playing Fortnite. I mean Ninja was on the cover of ESPN the magazine, how much more mainstream can you get? But what implications does this have for the Esports landscape? There is an audience. If a guy can get on Twitch and stream to 100,000 viewers no matter when he is playing, that proves viewership. It’s not just Fortnite though. Over the last 7 days Twitch in general has had an average of 1.2 million concurrent viewers. While I would wager that the majority of this isn’t eSports related, a good chunk is. Now look at events like The International, the premier Dota 2 tournament that Valve holds annually. Every year tickets go on sale for this event in mid-March. Every year, the tickets for the event sell out in minutes. It took place in Roger’s Arena this year. The arena has a capacity of about 18,500. Now what did the eSports Business Summit inform me about events like this? There is support and investors waiting to break into this market. For a company like Ambassador Studios, there is a massive opportunity. The amount of production that goes into an event like this is pretty staggering and the production value increases year over year. But why only consider the Top of the Pops like The International when considering production opportunities? There are events occurring year round that range from a purely online viewer experience to a live experience combined with the online viewership. Ambassador can bring ample and broad experience in production to a burgeoning industry.
The majority of my sessions at the Summit revolved around the state of thus and such eSports league and noticed one singular trend. Nothing is trending down. If you look at a game like Overwatch, I was calling Blizzard insane for starting Overwatch league nearly three years after the launch of the game. The viewership was in the toilet compared to the first year and much of the momentum was all but gone. However, even still Overwatch League overcame expectations all culminating in a viewership just shy of 2 million for the finals. This is a very interesting development because it was viewership driven purely on the rise of the Overwatch League instead of viewership that is riding the coattails of a successful release of a game. Given Overwatch League’s success I would be shocked if other eSports didn’t follow suit with more organized teams. Having a unified and predictable schedule with established teams has great implications from the production standpoint as well. With predictability comes stability which greatly appeals to most business minded folks in eSports, because it means a more stable viewership and easily translatable production from one format/league to another. More unified leagues comprised of a consistent base of teams is the future of eSports which means a greater future for all.
Everybody’s Question: What is Next?
Who knows? As a lifelong gamer and eSports enthusiast, I have to realize that I probably won’t be the generation to push the next zeitgeist. I like to think that I understand the industry well enough to see things coming but with the rise of tech like VR and AR, I can’t easily predict anything. I’m old-school. I like my mouse and keyboard but the average consumer is consistently showing that that modus of gaming may be on the outs. All that being said, I do know one thing. The landfall of eSports in the mainstream will happen and it will happen soon. I can hear everyone saying: “but haven’t Dota and Overwatch been on ESPN though?”. Yes, absolutely and the television viewership and the general reaction was not too positive. I’m saying that there will be a Fortnite for eSports that blows away every expectation you have. My best suggestion? Pay attention to trends and see what people are watching because the audience is there, its just waiting to wake up.