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eSports: The Sport of the Future?

By STRATA October 01, 2015 | 2:53pm

In the 1989 film, “Say Anything,” Lloyd Dobler prophetically declared: “Kickboxing. Sport of the future.” Today, the explosion of MMA fighting makes Lloyd’s prediction seems pretty prophetic. 2015’s version of Lloyd Dobler may declare eSports (competitive video gaming) as the next “sport of the future”. Far-fetched? Not when you consider that Madison Square Garden recently hosted sell-out crowds to witness the battle for North America’s professional League of Legends season championship. Video games have graduated from the dark recesses of your mom’s basement and have brought along a dedicated and expanding fan base that should make marketers take notice. 

According to a study conducted by market research firm Newzoo and featured in ESPN the Magazine’s recent eSports issue in 2014 fans worldwide consumed 3.7 billion hours of eSports content. (eSports can roughly be described as any video game played in a competitive and organized environment.) Truly, a staggering amount of impressions waiting to be claimed by a savvy marketer.  Newzoo reports that more than 28 million people in North America and Europe consider themselves to be eSports fans. The most intriguing stat though is that of those 3.7 billion viewership hours only 89 million consider themselves to be eSports enthusiasts indicating a reach far outside your stereotypical video game player. According to Newzoo more than half of American eSports fans are employed full time, 44 percent are parents and 38 percent are women. With the majority of fans (56%) falling into the coveted Millennial age bracket of 21-35 years old. 

League of Legends is now the world’s largest video game and attracts an estimated 27 million players daily.  This tremendously active player base has translated to viewership figures for the company sponsored League Championship Series that would make traditional sports salivate. In addition to the sold-out crowds at Madison Square Garden, the 2013 World Championship succeeded in selling out Los Angeles’ Staples Center while the 2014 World Championship packed a World Cup soccer stadium in Seoul, South Korea to capacity. 2015 will see the world championship matches take up residence in Berlin’s Mercedes-Benz Arena. While stories like this are amazing, what is truly mind-blowing is that these events attract viewership surpassing many major mainstream sporting events. The 40,000 fans on hand in Seoul in 2014 were joined by more than 27 million online viewers. That is correct. Without the benefit of support from broadcast television the 2014 League of Legends World Championship attracted more viewers than The Masters (25 million), The NBA Finals (15.5 million) and the World Series (13.8 million). 

eSports represents a merger of traditional sports-related advertising opportunities with the benefit of its natural digital habitat. STRATA’s recent agency survey found that 85% agencies have a greater interest in digital advertising than last year, while the same survey also showed that 66% of agencies are more interested in Streaming and Online video than in the prior year. For a marketer looking to expand their advertising into digital platforms, eSports offer an compelling combination of high quality content tailored to a digital viewing experience and an ever expanding audience for both live and on demand gaming content. Amazon’s acquisition of game streaming site Twitch.tv reinforces the growing importance of video game streaming as an advertising medium. Large corporations such as Coca-Cola have already entered into sponsorships with League of Legends. Even ESPN has begun to test the waters with eSports broadcasts and recently featured televised broadcasts of Heroes of the Storm a newer game from Blizzard (The makers of World of Warcraft). eSports are a growing entertainment force, and present an interesting opportunity for anyone looking to expand their digital advertising efforts while working within a structure they are used to encountering with traditional sports advertising.

If you find this potential new audience intriguing there is no better time than now to see what all the excitement is about. The League of Legends World Championship tournament begins its month long journey to crown the world champion today. You can check out all of the streaming action via LoLEsports.com or on Riot Game’s Twitch.tv channel. 

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