The rise of esports events and what its future holds

Jack Blog

August 17th, 2020 By Jack Morton

This esports events article is the second piece of content in a series of articles entitled: Game on! The video game industry’s opportunity to deliver superior brand experiences is now. Click here to read the first articleWhy the gaming experience now requires both on and offline engagement.  

By 2022, Goldman Sachs estimates the esports audience will reach nearly 300M – virtually the same size as the NFL today.

Despite being seen as a recent phenomenon, esports can trace its roots back to 1972 with a Space Invaders Championship that had over 10,000 participants. It didn’t get much attention again until 1998 with the legendary Starcraft 2 tournament that saw more than 50 million online viewers. Then it started gaining serious momentum in the 2000s with the debut of tournament hosts such as World Cyber Games and Major League Gaming.

Suffice to say, esports competitions have come a long way since their arcade ancestors. Today’s events fill major stadiums around the world with millions of online viewers and massive prize pools.

The 2019 League of Legends World Championship alone brought in over 100 million unique viewers.

Prize pools for both the 2019 Dota 2 International and 2019 Fortnite World Cup surpassed $30 million – with Fortnite’s World Cup awarding $40M.  

Online video sites like Twitch and YouTube now have a larger audience for gaming alone than HBO, Netflix and ESPN combined.

And they bring in a LOT of cash.

In 2019, global esports revenue topped $1B, with a projected growth to reach $1.8B by 2022.

Then COVID-19 happened.

future of esports events agency

Adjusting to a new landscape of experiential

With recent cancellations of live events due to COVID-19, more brands and organizations are having to “pivot”, resulting in many moving events and experiences online, like NASCAR. Their first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series Invitational aired live, garnering more than 900k viewers on FS1, making it the highest-rated esports TV program in history.

Expect to see more of these types of events and experiences as we adjust to a new landscape of experiential. More mixed physical and digital events (also known as hybrid) – fully engaging and immersing fans around the world in the experiences they love.

Let’s explore a few ways brands can take a decidedly intimate and physical experience and make it digital.

Gamers know that part of what they love is the shared experience. In this new normal, it’s harder to connect with other gamers who share the same love. For brands, it’s also nearly impossible to get demos into the hands of consumers, especially with the cancellation of some of the industry’s biggest in-person gaming events due to COVID-19.

To engage fans and build buzz during lockdown, brands can:

  1. Host virtual intimate influencer events that invite key buzz builders into portions of the game. Allow them to briefly explore and share the content with fans.
  2. Offer limited time only sneak peaks and behind the scenes content for fans.
  3. Create and promote a contest with a chance for fans to win 1:1 tutorials hosted by celebrity talent.
  4. Host a series of regular, consistent live virtual events to tease new titles, engage the community and drive game discovery.

What lies ahead for esports events

The gaming industry is soaring. And with new advancements in technology, gaming is only going to become more immersive, more imaginative, more fun.

Technology is already shaping the future of both gaming and brand experiences – and big mass market brands are already diving in (i.e. Google Stadia, Apple Arcade).

From artificial intelligence (AI) to virtual reality (VR), to augmented reality (AR) and 5G, let’s take a closer look how:

Artificial intelligence:

With AI, worlds are enhanced. All without the help of the game’s creator.  And with the collection of player data, games can now be tailored and altered almost in real-time, to improve the experience a player has.  (And we know curated content works, thanks to the success of Netflix.)

Secondly, and likely what’s most exciting, in the game space, AI will enable intelligent Non-player Characters (NPC). At the point that we have proper AI paired with emotional input/output, we can create incredibly lifelike games with lifelike interactions.

Virtual reality:

Traditionally, VR can be a very isolating experience. But we know that gaming is a social activity. The VOID is already at the forefront, blending the virtual with the physical.

“The VOID makes games in which players assume roles inStar Wars,AvengersandJumanji. Even the backpack you wear, used to store the computers that power the game, is baked into the storyline.” 

Gaming is the first and largest consumer market for VR. And the relevance of VR to this space extends far beyond social VR.

VR allows players to enter their favorite games and experience them like never before. That said, a lot of the major titles that have been pushed out have not seen massive success (Fallout, Doom, Skyrim) for a number of reasons. Namely, subpar user experiences. That will change over time, though, and expect this to be a big part of the future of gaming still.

Social VR, though, enhances this. Games in VR space have strong potential for mass appeal in multi-player online games.

Augmented reality:

AR provides us with another way of bringing to life the worlds people love. Hence the success of Pokémon Go.

AR is doing essentially the opposite of VR. If VR is taking you and putting you into a game world, AR is taking your game world and bringing it into the real world. Why does this matter? Because people will always care more about their immediate surroundings (basic survival instinct). And even though VR is so immersive, there are still stronger disassociations with it to reality than there are with AR.

5G :

When it comes to gaming devices, mobile leads the pack. So as 5G makes its way to mobile devices, it will have a massive impact on mobile gaming. And this will only improve the gaming experience.  Yes, less buffering.  It also means that games will rely less and less on hardware constraints. But it will also have a high impact on streaming games, which are expected to eventually push consoles out of market.

The future of esports events looks exciting, wouldn’t you say?