What Lessons Can Traditional Sports Learn From Esports?
There are now more than 450 million esports viewers around the world and the vast majority of them are teenagers and young adults. Governing bodies of traditional sports like golf, horse racing, baseball, cricket and rugby can only dream of enjoying such impressive levels of youth engagement.
Their fans are slowly dying out and the popularity of a number of traditional sports is continually dwindling, while esports is soaring on an annual basis. What lessons can struggling traditional sports learn from esports?
Embrace the power of streaming
Younger generations are a lot less likely than their older counterparts to sit in front of a TV to watch a ball game, a horse race or a golf tournament. They have grown up with computers and they have far shorter attention spans than their forebears. They like to be able to stream esports from a range of devices while on the go or relaxing at home, while having multiple windows open, chatting to their friend, checking out the reactions of the community and sharing their thoughts on social media.
In essence, viewership of esports is a much more immersive, interactive, fast-paced experience than watching traditional sports. But it all starts with the ability to stream exciting content, 24/7, every single day of the year, via Twitch or YouTube. Esports was a niche, underground pursuit until Twitch came along, capitalizing on the advent of high-speed broadband to connect viewers around the world to live video gaming tournaments.
The way people consume media is changing at a rapid pace, and if the governing bodies of ailing traditional sports want to appeal to new audiences they will need to overhaul the way the action is broadcasted.
Most traditional sport is still aired on TV screens. Many fans try to stream it illegally, but the quality is often poor, the connection cuts out and the ads get really annoying. Tournament organizers should work with streaming platforms like YouTube or DAZN on a strategy to make the action available in more innovative ways online. If necessary, they can charge for it, but they need to make it more readily accessible and take advantage of the advances in modern technology.
Improve social media interaction
This summer saw the first ever Fortnite World Cup and it boasted a prize pool of more than £30 million. It generated a huge amount of interest, and it excelled at whipping up social media engagement. Fans were urged to comment on the action using the competition’s hashtag, and social media blew up during the event.
Leading streamers were covering the action on their own YouTube and Twitch channels, and Epic Games – the developer of Fortnite – actively encouraged them to do so. Magnetic personalities like Ninja, Shroud and Dr Disrespect have really helped boost the competitive gaming scene in recent years, and it has reached the point where studios are paying them large fees to simply play their games. Organisers of traditional sports could do a better job of building up the profile of celebrity super fans and supporting them financially as they increase their online reach.
Esports stars frequently post on social media and interact with the community, which really helps drive interest. They are gamers, but they are also entertainers and they have worked hard on their personal brands.
You see Premier League, NBA and NFL stars regularly Tweeting these days, but some of the more traditional sports have a very poor social media presence. Millennial and Generation Z audiences often use social media to keep abreast of sporting developments and news in general, and if you are not part of the conversation you can never hope to flourish in the years ahead.
Join forces for collaborative events
There has been a big debate over whether esports should be incorporated into the Olympics. After all, viewership figures declined during the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, driven buy a huge decrease in the 18-34 age group. The median age of viewer was 54, and that will only increase in future if the International Olympics Committee fails to innovate.
Adding esports into the mix would boost engagement among younger viewers in one fell swoop. There are certain restrictions, as you cannot include violent esports like CS:GO, but sports games like FIFA, Rocket League and NBA2K could feature.
The problem for the IOC is that it needs esports much more than esports needs to be part of the Olympic Games. “The Olympics would include esports to get young people to watch their event, not to get older people to watch our events,” said Rahul Sood, founder of Unikrn esports betting and news site. “Because of that, the only financial benefit of the Olympics would be exposure to brands somehow unaware of esports, which would help accelerate the inevitable.
“It’s misguided, or egotistical, of mainstream culture to think the Olympics are somehow a greater honor than The International, Worlds or a CS:GO Major.”
He makes a very good point, and it would be difficult for the IOC to convince the esports community to embrace the Olympic Games. However, some traditional sports franchises will not face that challenge, because they have already invested heavily in the nascent esports sector.
Most NBA franchises have esports teams and so do a number of Europe’s leading soccer clubs. They know that esports is the future, so they have moved quickly to gain first mover advantage in this sector. Their professionalism and experience has really given the competitive gaming sector a boost, and now it could be time for them to use their esports teams more strategically in order to boost their traditional sporting assets.
The Premier League has already teamed up with EA Sports to launch the ePremier League, while the NBA teams have an NBA 2K competition. The next step would be to devise more innovative collaborations between sports leagues and popular esports like League of Legends, Dota 2 and CS:GO, bringing new generations of viewers to the table and reaping the rewards.