If you haven’t picked up a video game control pad before, you’d be forgiven if the term ‘eSports’ creates a face full of confusion.
Essentially, professional gamers compete on titles such as Call of Duty and Minecraft to mass audiences that tune in through the web. To give you a sense of its popularity, live-streamed competitions can carry cash prizes of up to $5m, while globally MLG.tv, the primary eSports online viewing channel, boasts 225 million unique users.
Activision Blizzard – which creates popular games such as the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft titles, and owns MLG – expects eSports to achieve a global audience of 326 million users by 2018 on its channels alone.
As such, it is now pressing ahead in its bid to take eSports truly mainstream. Today’s (May 12) announced changes will mean its MLG.tv channel will now feature the new Eve platform, which allows stats to flash up during matches to deepen the connection with viewers and offers fully HD streaming.
There will also be a daily news show, ESR, and for the first time MLG TV will partner with Facebook, which means all of MLG.tv’s eSports programming will now be viewable by the social media giant’s 1.6 billion users.
Mike Sepso, co-founder and SVP of Activision Blizzard Media Networks, says too many brands are underestimating the potential of eSports.
He told Marketing Week: “This sport has grown up entirely in digital. We have reached hundred of millions of viewers without any significant TV distribution.
“In April, we held a five-day MLG event in Columbus and we got 71 million viewers, with 45 hours of live content consumed. During the same weekend, it was the NCAA final four basketball tournament – which is one of the top three annual sporting events in the US. Our viewing figures blew them out the park and the American millennial audience wasn’t watching basketball but live video game matches.”
The MLGTV relaunch will be the first steps towards the world’s biggest brands treating eSports with the “same respect” as the likes of football and basketball, according to Sepso.
In particular, he said the new platform will allow brands to tell stories “authentically” to eSports fans. By sponsoring components such as stat boxes or documentaries that tell the stories of professional gamers, he said brands can avoid being seen as an “intruder”.
“There is room out there for a big new global sport and eSports will be it.”
Mike Sepso, co-founder and SVP of Activsion Blizzard Media Networks
In the not so recent past, Sepso admits that the idea of eSports perhaps didn’t interest advertisers as much as established sports such as football. However, he said that since MLG added programmatic targeting to its mix, it has brought hundreds of brand advertisers on board – something he expects to keep on increasing.
“There will be a day where big brands invest just as much of their ad budget on eSports as Premier League football or the NFL – we already have more unique viewers than the NHL (National Hockey League), MLB (Major League Baseball) and NBA (National Basketball Association) combined,” added Sepso.
“There is room out there for a big new global sport and what’s interesting here is eSports is the first digital native sport. It fits into the way marketing is moving from traditional above the line, and that journey into digital channels. We have the scale and size at Activision to bring advertisers across every aspect of eSports, and today is the first step.”
More than a billion people will be aware of the eSports industry by the end of 2016, according to a report by market research firm Newzoo, up 36% compared to 2015. Over recent months, major ad agencies such as M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment have also launched internal eSport divisions.
According to Sepso, the message is very clear: neglect eSports at your own peril.