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    How esports is attracting big audiences

    December 10, 2020

    Competitive video gaming has exploded on to the scene in recent years, attracting huge crowds across the world. Today, esports is the fastest growing forms of entertainment, attracting more viewers than Netflix, Hulu, HBO and ESPN combined. For this reason alone, it’s something that broadcasters need to watch carefully.

    What is esports?

    Viewers have an expectation from professional sports — highly skilled competitors playing against each other to the best of their ability with screaming spectators in huge arenas or watching from home or online on super-slick TV and streaming broadcasts. 

    Esports conforms to these expectations with only one point of difference; in esports, all the competition occurs in the virtual world of video games. Instead of balls and bats, esports competitors use joysticks and keyboards either individually or in teams.

    The other difference between esports and traditional sports is that you can play the same games as your heroes, even as a mere spectator. It’s the equivalent of playing baseball on a major-league field or shooting 18 holes at Augusta National. This makes esports really in a league of its own.

    The technology used in creating a competition

    In many ways, esports have the same technological challenges as traditional sports; multicamera coverage, live broadcasting, expert commentary, instant replays and edited highlights. But on top of that, esports has a considerable range of logistical challenges that go way beyond traditional broadcasting.

    To host an esports event, you need truckloads of hardware, monitors, servers, cables and the whole technological setup. Your infrastructure needs to be robust enough to support multiple monitors for players, referees and spectators, all broadcasting detailed video graphics in high definition. Plus, your servers need to cope with large groups of highly skilled players making moves that need to be played back in milliseconds. Lag is not an option, either for players or spectators. 

    Because of these massive requirements, on-premises technology is preferred for esports. Plus, on-premises solutions help esports venues keep tight security controls to prevent cheating and interference with gameplay. 

    The move to arena audiences

    Though considered a new phenomenon, esports has been around longer than you might imagine. The first event that could be called an esports competition was held in 1972 at Stanford University for the game Spacewar, with a grand prize of a year's subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.

    Televised video game events began to pop-up in the 1970s and 1980s. Still, it wasn't until the 1990s that the broadcasting of video-gaming competitions became big business with the popularity of highly competitive video games such as Streetfighter.

    But like all popular sports, broadcasting isn't the whole story; it's all about getting bums-on-seats. And this has seen the rise of arena-based competitions where adoring fans pay to attend esports competitions, sitting in stands, eating hot-dogs and watching their favorite players on giant screens play-off against each other in slickly choreographed multimedia productions.

    It's big dollars. Before the pandemic, the global esports market was forecast to hit $1.5b by 2020, with significant revenue streams in sponsorship, advertising, game publishing, media rights, and tickets and merchandise.

    How it translates onto the small screen

    Esports viewership is enormous. Teams compete in front of massive global audiences comparable in size to traditional top-tier sporting events. In 2014, the NBA Finals drew an average of 15 million viewers compared to more than 20 million people who watched the International Dota 2 Championships.

    But viewing an esports competition online can be a vastly different experience than traditional sporting broadcasts. And while many viewers can choose to watch a traditional-style sporting broadcast on their TVs, a large number of fans choose a more immersive way to view their favorite competitions. 

    Because of the virtual nature of video games, some competitions allow users to not just view what a broadcaster chooses for you to see. They instead let viewers watch the game unfold from the competing player's point of view, or allow spectators to join the "field-of-play" and choose how they view the competition without disturbing the gameplay. You can literally feel like you're in the game itself instead of being a remote observer.

    Examples in the market

    Interested in viewing some esports events? Here are some of the biggest and most popular esports in the market today:

    • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is a multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment. Events are regularly broadcast on the TBS network with a viewership of around 1 million.
    • League of Legends is a fantasy-themed multiplayer online battle arena video game developed and published by Riot Games. It is one of the most popular esports around, with various annual tournaments taking place worldwide with a global viewing audience of as much as 3.8 million.
    • Dota 2 is a fantasy-themed multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game developed and published by Valve. Tournaments are primarily broadcast through the video game live streaming platform, Twitch with an average viewership of around half a million. Some tournaments are simulcast on traditional sports networks, including ESPN and BBC3.
    • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a first-person shooter game developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision. Tournaments can attract a viewership of over 300,000.
    • Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege is an online tactical shooter game developed and published by Ubisoft and was designed with esports in mind. Tournaments can attract a viewership of over 300,000.
    Tag(s): Featured , esports

    Chris Witmayer

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