Esports is a strong force, with the industry now worth over $1 billion in global revenue and growing year on year. Competitions such as The International DOTA 2 Championships are awarding prize money in excess of $20 million and drawing viewer numbers of over 30 million, proving this is a market that has quietly come of age over the past decade.
Platforms like Twitch are home to a new generation of professional gamers and avid spectators all participating in a vibrant culture centered around the games they love. Near synonymous with the term esports is streaming platform Twitch, which was bought In 2014 by retail giant Amazon for $970 million and now boasts over 15 million daily active users, 3.8 million broadcasters, and $300 million in yearly revenue. These numbers are making their presence felt in the media landscape.
The Esports boom of 2020
Global conditions in 2020 led to a boom in the industry as the void left by the cancellation of conventional sports events was picked up in part by esports. Many people who never previously watched a competition bout of Call of Duty or witnessed a match of Rocket League are finding their way onto platforms Periscope, Vimeo, or Facebook Watch.
In response to this, successful esports teams such as European heavyweights Team Liquid are diversifying their output in order to appeal to a wider audience, keep their existing fans interested, and increase their visibility in a changing landscape. After winning titles at some of the biggest competitions around the world, they are moving into different arenas like traditional card games such as poker. As esports continues on its current trajectory, taking on established sporting leagues, the demand for new content increases.
The old guard of traditional sports media is waking up to this sea-change and is looking to increase its visibility on Twitch and competing platforms. In mid-2020 Twitch announced the return of its standalone Twitchsports channel that platforms conventional sports from some of the world’s biggest broadcasters such as ESPN and leagues like UFC and the NBA. In addition to this, Twitch announced platform collaborations with some of the biggest football clubs on the planet including Arsenal and Real Madrid.
The chat-based format common to esports services has created a culture of interactivity that conventional sports media has previously lacked. Being able to respond to people on the fly, to have your voice heard, and to shape the discourse and flow of sports commentary fosters a greater sense of culture and community that is a particular draw to net-savvy Gen-Z. Expect conventional sports media to look for ways to integrate those insights.
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How Google Stadia attempts to enter the Esports arena
Rival services from Microsoft and Facebook have so far failed to take a bite out of Twitch’s dominant viewership. But trouble could be on the horizon for Amazon in the form of Google’s cloud gaming platform Stadia, which was launched in earnest in late 2019. It offers the opportunity to stream games on any HDMI connected screen, computer, or Android device. All you need is the proprietary controller to plug and play. Stadia was hotly anticipated ahead of its release as it boasted the prospect of being able to stream games in 4k resolution to any hardware with an internet connection.
Unfortunately, due to pre-order hiccups and technical trouble, the product had a poor launch and has been seeking to recover ground ever since. Google is a company unafraid to experiment with different products and approaches and has the resources at its disposal to take measured risks.
In 2006 Google bought the up-and-coming video streaming platform, YouTube. Fast forward to today and YouTube boasts 2 billion viewers, 37 million channels, and ad-revenue coming in at around $15 billion a year. YouTube is so massive as to be synonymous in people’s minds with video streaming. From the outset, Google has envisioned big things with Stadia to this end. To coincide with the release of Cyberpunk 2077, one of the most anticipated game titles of recent years, Stadia has launched direct streaming to YouTube. This puts all the resources and clout of YouTube into direct competition with Twitch. As we move into 2021 expect to see Google flex its influence and push esports on YouTube like never before.