To achieve mainstream recognition and understanding, e-sports need to drastically change how tournaments are played.
If you ask Generation Z and young Millennials, e-sport is the world’s best kept sporting secret. If you ask their Generation X counterparts, the answer is completely different. While the over-35s largely prefer traditional sports such as football and basketball, digitally native Generation Z – to an increasing extent – remain loyal to e-sports when it comes to their choice of sporting entertainment. Within this group, e-sports have already overtaken traditional sports as their preferred competitive format.
With an estimated 350m fans globally, e-sports have already achieved a larger fanbase and following than, for example, America’s NHL Ice Hockey. The sector is also rapidly closing in on NBA Basketball fan figures, and those of other traditional sports. Put simply, e-sports viewer numbers are growing fast.
Competition events where teams of gamers battle to win tournaments already attract 10,000–15,000 live spectators, and major e-sports tournaments are watched online by millions. According to a recent article in Forbes, the last Intel Extreme Masters World Championship tournament in Katowice, Poland, was followed by more than 46m unique online viewers.
With figures this big, e-sports should easily break into new audience territories. But there’s a hitch. To achieve mainstream recognition and understanding, e-sports need to drastically change how tournaments are played.
At present, they are exhaustive – up to seven days of games, with more than 12 hours of game play each day – and the competing teams are often announced at the arena rather than in advance. Fans aren’t willing to travel when they aren’t certain to see their favourite team live, making it hard to activate brand partnerships and plan programming for broadcasters.
A change of format would open up e-sports to tv air time and make visits to tournaments much simpler for fans.
This approach can be off-putting to potential e-sports fans who might not have days to spare to dedicate to a tournament, or might find it hard to access from a family perspective.
At this stage in the global growth of e-sports, the sector should seize the opportunity to welcome those intrigued by its energy. Whether this is through unexpected brand partnerships, tournaments in new cities or family-orientated e-sports tasters that engage the next generation of gamers, the opportunities are clear.
A change of format – one-day tournaments and a tighter roster of leading teams – would be a good starting point, opening up e-sports to tv air time and making visits to tournaments much simpler for fans. The new BLAST Pro Series, for example, to be launched in November, will provide a more approachable and less time-consuming entry point to e-sports that could transform competitive live entertainment.
Not only does it democratise the insider nature of e-sports, the one-day approach would satisfy modern audiences’ increasing expectations – and appetite – for their entertainment to be on-demand, shareable and swift.
Arguably, the evolution of e-sports will depend on how the industry approaches its live tournaments. By focusing on more progressive formats, we can welcome both new brands and global fans curious about this new era of competitive entertainment.
Steen Laursen is vice-president of communications and brand at e-sports media company RFRSH Entertainment, organiser of the BLAST Pro Series.