After the resounding success of 2016, the eSports industry prepares for what promises to be an even better year. The number of games played at the highest competitive level has increased and new challenges have arrived. Most of them can be solved with relative ease, but a select few will require the undivided attention of the entire gaming community. Overall, the positives greatly outshine the negatives and the buzz and excitement around eSports keeps growing.
Media Companies and Broadcasters Acknowledge eSports
Long gone are the times when video games would only appeal to a narrow audience of enthusiastic players. The industry spins hundreds of millions of dollars on a yearly basis and big companies offer seven-figure team sponsorship deals. Dota 2 International emerged as the biggest tournament in videogame history, with a prize pool of $20 million. The most important part for the broadcasters and media companies is that there were more than 300 million viewers in 2016 alone.
The numbers alone should be enough to sway these big players and convince them to invest larger amounts in advertising and content licensing. Perhaps even more significant is that the demographics are perfect for those who want to monetize their broadcasts through advertisements. Equally important for the major TV stations is that these are precisely the kind of people that would traditionally dwell on sports. Many have irreversibly shifted from football and basketball to eSports and have no intention to go back.
Mistakes Have Dire Consequences in the eSports Industry
The eSports industry is a very sensitive one when it comes to broadcasts and not even the biggest companies are immune to its backlash. Dropping coverage on TV channels makes perfect sense given the popularity of the games, but it needs to be done flawlessly. Modifying the formats to better suit the television norms is a ruinous mistake that others have committed before. Players won’t accept any such transgressions and are likely to turn away in the face of aggressive advertising.
TV stations and major media companies have considered the possibility of broadcasting eSports and video games some time ago. Unfortunately for them, they got it all wrong and the programs were total failures. Some decided that the games don’t deserve a second chance and dismissed them as an activity for kids and youngsters. They found little incentives to focus on this audience, which wasn’t exactly the target for those who advertise various products on television.
Things have changed so quickly that many of these industry giants had no time to respond and make any changes in their strategy. Now that the race is on once again, they are under tremendous pressure to get it right because it’s likely that they only have one shot. The eSports audience is very demanding and doesn’t settle for second best. The ones watching professional players and major tournaments have plenty of options and no reason to accept subpar services.
In eSports There is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity
As the videogame industry undergoes major changes, the ones directly involved respond differently to them. Since the Internet is the environment where everything relevant happens, it also acts as a catalyst for spreading news. Players flock to forums and talk to each other frequently, sometimes reaching surprising conclusions. Authoritative voices can have a major impact in this line of work and pro-players usually have their voices reverberate throughout the entire gaming community.
Reddit and other mainstream forums allow players to discuss everything eSports related and express their opinions. As media companies prepare to embrace this industry wholeheartedly, they would be wise to pay attention to what happens in these environments. The videogame community is pretty good overall, despite some toxic individuals who bicker about everything and are quick to criticize. However, with most of its members being actual players, they know the games inside out and have strong opinions. You can't trick Call of Duty Infinite War or Heroes of the Storm players with mediocre content.
If the topic games enough momentum, discussions can shift from mild criticism to downright bashing of companies, games and strategies. Media companies need to tread lightly because the moment they take on the eSports project, they will come under the scrutiny of these demanding individuals. Video game developers have learned to pay attention to what the community has to say. It happened more than once that innovative decisions were rolled back and major changes postponed indefinitely.
The Roads Less Traveled Are Less Traveled for a Reason
Twitch is still the dominant force in the eSports industry and unseating it will be a gargantuan task. All the experience the major broadcasting stations and televisions have won’t be enough to undo years of progress overnight. Sharing the experiences of watching important tournaments and competitions is just as important as seeing the show. This is something that the Internet delivers every day and television will have to find an alternative. Social media is expected to provide a helping hand, by allowing TV viewers to discuss the programs in real-time. It’s a starting point, but not something to dwell on exclusively.
There are very few things that the Internet can’t provide but the television can. In order to compete with the online environment, they will need to get creative and put the full force of their financial might behind new strategies. Outspending the Internet streamers is a possibility and media giants can hire professionals to discuss the hottest topics. Talk shows featuring professional players who discuss the games as they unfold is one way to stand out from the crowd.
eSports fans love the games, appreciate the League of Legends, Dota 2 or Overwatch analysis. First and foremost they want this to be a no-frills pastime. The moment the talk shows stop enticing them they won't hesitate to look the other way. If they feel that TV programs are wasting their time in any way, they will return to the online alternatives. Another huge problem faced by the media companies contemplating the possibility of covering eSports is providing engaging content. Casual and veteran players appreciate different content and television has a single channel for all of it. Online, players are only one click away from finding precisely the kind of entertainment they desire.
Building a Bridge Between the TV and Online Environment
No matter how you look at the foreseeable future of eSports, it seems to be indissolubly linked to the Internet. Media companies need to accept this as a given and then try to make the most of this reality. Watching the videogames on TV can be exciting but in order to attract enough players as to make it count, one would have to build a bridge between television and the Internet. Broadcasting channels online is one way to handle pressure and dedicated apps are also expected to go a long way.
Many of those who play videogames and also watch them over the Internet actively use dedicated apps for desktops. They have two or even three screens that they watch simultaneously and this is something that media companies need to acknowledge. The second screen phenomenon is the starting point and paying attention to desktop applications is one way to tap into its tremendous potential. Investing in this somewhat overlooked area can give them a competitive edge and help them sell their products.
Mobile technology is omnipresent, but these benefits are less obvious for those who plan on bringing eSports to television. Under normal circumstances, players have no use for their smartphone or tablet when they want to watch professionals. Tiny screens are the biggest problem, as you need the best resolution to see everything that happens during a fight. On the other hand, these devices are perfect for updating players on what happens in tournaments, while at the venue.
The bottom line is that the major media companies have missed their chance of an early start in the eSports race. The best they can do right now is to close the gap separating them from leading players such as Twitch TV. Despite all their financial might and experience, some might think that these guys are fighting a losing battle. They think that they will never become the driving force in the industry. This is partially true, since there are a few creative ways they can use to get back in the spotlight.
They can use insights sponsored to make their broadcast attractive to savvy players or focus on the basics to attract casuals. In either case, they need a coherent plan. The Internet will remain the environment of choice for those who watch eSports for many years to come. On the bright side, the industry is on a constant expansion and video games have a bright future ahead.The pie is large enough for anyone to get a slice if they play their cards right.