Esports and the New Frontier: Experiential Gaming
What do you think of when you hear ‘sports star’? Previous experience in the sports industry has colored my answers to these questions. I think Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Michael Jordan, and more recently Kerri Walsh and Steph Curry. You think sweat, grit, broken bones, sprained ankles, extensive training and grass-stained jerseys.
But if you ask my kids, or any generation beyond Millennial (Gen Z), the question becomes a bit muddied and you may get a different answer. You might hear names like Faker, Grubby, Goldy, and yes you’ll still hear Steph Curry. The man’s a machine. But the other sports stars come from the world of digital gaming.
Organized competitive gaming is making headlines. And for good reason. The most popular games typically are team-based multiplayer formats that span first-person or multiplayer online battle arena genres. In 2016, the League of Legend tournament drew 36 million viewers at China’s Bird Nest Stadium, which is about 5 million more than that year’s NBA finals (Cavs vs. Warriors), demonstrating the huge pull the industry has as a spectator sport.
Viewership is projected to reach 250 million in 2021, an anticipated 75% increase from 2017. Popularity in esports even has the International Olympic Committee getting involved and learning about opportunities for collaboration. It’s the New Frontier. But, where did this surge come from? And how has it inspired the next generation of sports stars?
The Early Years
Earliest memories of video gaming align with increasing internet connectivity, PC games and consoles, and gamers were a niche group. They often spent time playing privately, transporting themselves to other worlds. It was more about escaping and enjoying the art of gaming on their own or with a select group of friends. You had your own space and were momentarily relieved from reality.
More Recent Times
Esports has evolved to a worldwide community of avid gamers and a team sport phenomenon. This shift towards ‘community’ has expanded growth in newer, diverse audiences and players as it’s become more social. In just 10 years, from 2007 to 2017, the distribution of female U.S. gamers increased to 42% (a 10% increase). Women gamers have become an extremely popular group on YouTube with the top 10 reaching up to 21 million subscribers combined.
In 2017 alone, viewers watched almost 6 billion hours of gaming content on Twitch across 55 million users, with YouTube and Facebook also competing for eyeballs. These types of virtual events need robust communications platforms to support the hordes of fans that are relying on uptime, speed, quality of service, security and more.
Gamers also flock to conventions and large events to play Call of Duty, Counter Strike, League of Legends and so on. These tournaments and competitions are a big deal and are picked up by media giants for broadcasting like ESPN and Turner. And one such major event, TwitchCon 2018, takes the Bay Area by storm starting October 26th.
The Next 5 Years and Beyond
For good reason, Silicon Valley is expanding its focus beyond tech and into the high-growth sports entertainment market where esports operate from a digital, global, and local perspective. Professional esports franchises are a key driver for increased fan engagement, which in turn drives additional growth.
We’ve gone from remote, individual game play, to more of a community atmosphere, and IRL activities that are bridging the gap between the digital and physical sports worlds. Fans buying tickets and merchandise will contribute $96 million this year alone.
Some venues are already capable of tech-heavy events like esports competitions, but the trend is retrofitting and building venues that are gaming specific and purpose-built for supporting live experiences that matter. Let’s take a look:
- The Esports Arena franchise has deployed gaming-specific facilities across North America.
- In 2015, the first dedicated esports facility opened in Orange County encompassing 15,000 square feet.
- Las Vegas houses a 30,000 square foot, multilevel arena open for daily play, high-stakes tournaments, and a competition stage with a 50-foot LED video wall.
- The 3rd location, launched this year in Oakland, and sprawls across 16,000 square feet.
- The Sacramento Kings have dedicated portions of Golden 1 Center to act as the world’s first state-of-the-art training facility for esports to provide the best-in-class tools for the next generation of superstar gamers.
- Not surprisingly, China is joining the game and proposing bids to invest in infrastructure for high-end stadiums and facilities that can stimulate the economy and foster growth of the industry.
Facilities need to be far more sophisticated than traditional venues in order to support these mega-events and live experiences to align with the advanced technological needs. Advanced unified communication technology needs to be at the heart of live events to keep people connected in large public venues. Streamlining communication is critical to providing teams with flawless HD video and voice that is optimized to the device—mobile, tablet, browser, desktop for mobile simplicity. In addition, Avaya’s Mobile Experience can enhance smartphone interactions, drive down costs, and deliver better customer and fan experiences.
The new generation of gamers are getting involved because of the IRL factors. It’s social, it’s community, but it’s also more than that. It includes in-person and live experience. I mean, I’m going to TwitchCon, and I’m bringing all three of my kids with me to the new frontier (or they’re taking me). It’s a fun coincidence that the TwitchCon after party will be at Avaya Stadium.