MLS & NBA Set The Pace As ‘Traditional’ Sports Realise eSports Potential

For the gaming communities, eSports are not a new phenomenon, not by any stretch. They have immense global audiences, incredible viewership and engagement metrics with huge prize money to boot.
Meanwhile the sports industry is going through a period of unprecedented change. Live viewership has been declining dramatically and typically still runs off a distribution model with many of the traditionally dominant companies slow to implement technology innovation. The industry is ripe for disruption with eSports set to be ‘Disruptor-in-Chief,’ and herein lies a marriage of necessity and reciprocal value. – more people watched last year’s League of Legends world finals than the NBA Finals

To the “traditional” sports fan and non-gamer there is arguably a lack of understanding as to what eSports are. This lies possibly through an inability to grasp how a ‘League of Legends’ Tournament can pull in such huge audiences and commercial revenue. The “traditional” sports fan might still hold a predisposed inertia or outright refusal to consider gaming a “sport” in the same manner as a Super Bowl or Rugby World Cup.

We are witnessing the closing of the gap between Sports & Entertainment, as major brands and sports rights holders increasingly realise the commercial power of branding to an engaged and interactive audience.

The most watched games (League of Legends for example) generate 60-70 millions viewed hours per month and this is excluding China’s massive streaming platforms. A large part explanation for the huge growth is attributed to its lower barrier to entry – in many instances all you need is a decent computer/console and an internet connection. This creates an immediate spike in numbers but also allows access to sports such as Formula 1 - a great example of this being McLaren’s World’s Fastest Gamer project.

The McLaren execution is a fantastic example of a traditional sport converging with gaming to create an authentic, real-world story telling experience. In doing so it also creates a genuinely unique cross-over value whereby the ‘fastest racer’ will work with the McLaren Applied Technology team in their racing simulator to help create the fastest car possible.

The eSports market is breaking grounds for interactivity and innovation. During tournaments, mixed reality visuals are used to bring the characters life and create an immersive experience for viewers. Integrating new tech innovations comes naturally and because of its inherently digital nature there is a greater openness to change and agile audience of early adopters - It becomes a logical extension of the experience and not something tacked on for the sake of innovation.

There have been several mitigating factors in the traditional sports industry’s inertia to gravitate to or incorporate eSports’ strategies – for example the huge amounts of television money being paid to federations, leagues and teams, which have in many cases actually stifled innovation with reliance upon these established income streams.

Over the past 12-18 months the gap between traditional televised sport and new forms of viewership has evolved dramatically. The rise of OTT and with big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook entering the sports bidding space is fast driving the more traditional organisations to pursue innovation new approaches and test different business models.

One area which holds particular promise and huge opportunity for growth is the overlap between sports performance data and the eSports environment – these can be developed to combine new experiences, fantasy leagues that pull in live data or publish it in a different format. These new strategies could potentially revolutionise revenue streams and change market position, but they are in part reliant upon being to demonstrate value, an ROI, but also a calculated risk and the ability to adapt and change quickly. The launch of the eMLS this week in conjunction with EA and Major League Soccer is a great example and we expect others to follow suit.

An excellent example of a traditional sports company actively rethinking its strategy and driving innovation forward is the NBA. They led the way in the Immersive Tech space with their partnership with Intel and Turner Sports at the end of last year. They also allowed instant sharing of all broadcast content across social media, being shared thousands of times and multiplying its total reach. The league broke its all-time attendance record last year over 22 million attending and TV viewership rose by 19 percent– a great example of innovations paying off and the need for other leagues to catch up.

I look forward to the launch of their NBA 2K League in 2018 in what I expect to be a further precedent for tech innovation reaping commercial reward. One thing is for certain, ‘traditional’ and ‘e’ Sports are going to become more and more aligned.

Visit: www.virtual-reality-sports-innovation.co.uk for more information