In 2015, there were 550,000 average concurrent viewers on Twitch. The average amount of time each viewer watched a month was 421 minutes. One of the largest eSports tournaments of 2015, League of Legends Worlds, had 14 million viewers during its finals. The total cumulative daily unique impressions? 334 million. For comparison sake, the 2015 Super Bowl had an average audience of 114 million people.
A first person shooter called Counter Strike has been pulling millions of viewers yearly for big events and just recently started airing a Counter Strike League on TBS. No matter how you look at it, eSports is real, and it’s evolving into a behemoth. There is a huge future for eSports as we see TV deals being completed, tournaments on ESPN, and teams with major sponsors like Samsung. Each sport, whether it physical, online, or mental needs to assess the motives of its consumers to continue to be successful. I will be using the Motivation Scale for Sports Consumption to compare and contrast eSports with physical sports.
- Achievement: In physical sport, it’s very common and normal to empathize and “live” with the players and their accomplishments. Associating with a successful team can develop self-esteem, prestige, and even empowerment. Feeling joy and accomplishment through imagined participation is common for both eSports and physical. Conversely, eSports has generated specific roles for players that consumers can relate with more so than physical sports. For example, League of Legends has 5 different distinct roles, all of which a current player and viewer has at some point tested out. Typically a player specializes in one of those roles and will grow a strong connection with that role in the competitive scene. This is the same as if someone played Quarterback in High School and paid more attention to or empathized more with a professional Quarterback. Even more so, eSports professionals are generally easier to approach through online sources due to the fact that most stream their video game online. If not for significant restrictions in professional physical sport, this could be a great growth tool. Imagine viewing your favorite Quarterback throw practice passes at targets or players in their back yard.
- Aesthetics: The artistic appreciation of the sport due to its inherent beauty. In relation to physical sport, this is easy to distinguish. Often times the players themselves are the aesthetics pleasure, but this relates to branding, colors, logos, the physical venue, and the ability of competitors as well. Common high rated aesthetics sports are figure skating, diving, or gymnastics. As far as eSports go, the competitors themselves aren’t the key aesthetics pull for competitions, but shouldn’t be ignored at all. Development of characters and competitors is essential to create loyalty and the general small boundary between consumer and competitor. The main play of eSports happens within an electronic environment and the video game World is one of the most important aspects of consumer motivation. To compare, a first person shooter like Counter Strike is much easier to follow as an indirect or new consumer than a complex game with several different moves like Starcraft 2 or League of Legends.
- Acquisition of Knowledge: A need to learn about teams, players, and the game through consumption. Generally contriving information and facts from physical sports is very common, especially in this era of fantasy leagues. Casual conversations of how well a player has done within the last week may be more common than a conversation based on your favorite team or rival. Socialization is a whole separate motivation, but knowledge within a specific video game and its players is a stepping stone. A large portion of eSports spectators either play or did play the video game they spectate. This tends to create an appreciation and understanding for a player or teams ability, and frequently will be reproduced. For instance, a professional team starts using a strategy or character that isn’t commonly seen in game. That character will instantly become the next highest played within the game. It’s long been difficult for companies to create a balanced game because of this, and the pro scene makes that even more difficult.
- Drama/Eustress: Experiencing pleasurable stress or stimulation from an event. The uncertainty and dramatic turn of events in video games is a crucial motivation for consumers of both eSports and physical. Uncertainty is a proven stress for sports marketers, and marketing a winning team is significantly easier than a losing one. Drama, in my opinion, is the most important motivation for eSports, and the production system showcases exactly this. Unlike the even-tempered, low energy casters of the NFL and NBA, eSports generally comprises of a higher energy cast with a particular hype caster as well. If you watch international eSports casters, the energy and excitement are almost too over the top. Whether it’s intentional or just an aspect of eSports is up for debate. There is plenty of constant downtime with timeouts, halftimes, TV timeouts, and more that will draw out a physical sport, and those don’t exist currently in eSports. This may be a massive hurdle that needs to be assessed for eSports to hit prime time television.
- Escape: a need to find a diversion from work and the normal everyday life. Video games themselves are used frequently in regards to escapism and eSports consumption is no different. Traditionally, media of all sorts including television, movies, and music are used as an escape from everyday life.Competitive video games hit all the traditional aspects, with an easier access point to understanding and appreciation of the competition. In my past consumption of eSports, the outcome of the game is less important to me than the consumption itself, which is drastically different than the emotions I’d produce watching a Cubs playoff game. Just last week I went to a live viewing of the League of Legends Quarterfinals in Chicago. A significant portion of the viewers there were wearing their favorite team’s garments even though those teams weren’t participating that day. Imagine going to a New York Yankees baseball game and 90% of the viewers have Cubs, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Dodger’s attire on. The sheer love for the game and appreciation of ability and skill drives people to the venue no matter who is playing.
- Social Interaction: The need to interact and socialize with others of like interests to be a part of a group. One of the top motivations of competitive video game consumption is social interaction. Unlike traditional sports, this interaction is generally online. With the rising amount of live productions, this will change hands sooner than later, but the primary social interaction can be seen online in forums, social media, and in-game. Social interaction within online streams of competitive gaming is a different beast as well. 100’s of thousands of viewers jam pack into one chat room with emotes, chat, and like-minded people. Imagine an entire football stadium in one chat room as the game is being played out. Negative, positive, uplifting, crude, any comment you can think of has the same platform and visibility as another. This not only strengthens the inclusion of social interaction but also gives an outlet for social interaction as an escape, especially for intrinsic individuals which are a high population of video game consumers.
Motivations for eSports consumption can be similar to a physical sport but has some significant differences as well. The major motivation for aesthetics aspects of sports will and currently is a high barrier for eSports. Video games that are played competitively are generally complex and require a significant amount of concentration to follow. League of Legends, for instance, has 133 champions, all of which have a minimum of 4 different moves, each of which has a passive move, as well as a tree of talents that can be individually catered to the champion the player picks. In 2016 alone, there have been 5 new champions created and several more that have had complete makeovers to be more relevant to current rules and metas. The visuals and particle effects on a screen of 10 champions clashing at once can be overwhelming to even a seasoned player, and can be missed or too hectic for shout casters to pick up on.
It is important to assess the motivations of eSports consumers and the differentiation of physical sports consumers. Several NBA players are buying stock or full ownership of eSports teams, past CEO’s are delving into the realm of leagues such as the one on TBS, and the rising dollars in prize pools for these events is creating a demand for high-level players that can’t be supplied currently. Consumers are out there, but will these major video game companies be able to extend their life cycle to changes in the marketplace?