18 June

I have been looking at the competitive Esports world recently, that is the world of video game spectatorship where people watch top players display their prowess at various computer-based games. This follows the model of professional non-video sports like tennis, soccer and football, but based on modern games that arguably have a broader appeal in today's world. This has been an ongoing commercial activity for years, but it is only gradually coming to the attention of the general public (i.e. people over the age of 30). Many people are surprised to find that top video game tournaments draw thousands of spectators, both in person as we as on-line and have prize pools that can reach up to into the tens of millions of dollars (for example the Dota 2 International 2016 had a prize pool of over $20,000,000 USD). My first exposure to this world was when I heard one of my graduate students and his girlfriend were traveling to Toronto to watch a World of Warcraft live stadium event with tens of thousands of spectators. Today's hottest games include Dota 2, Counterstrike and Overwatch.

Some big investors and companies are seeking to get into the Esports craze either to promote their games, build their audience, or use it as an advertising medium for other products. The scene includes huge corporate players in the gaming scene like Blizzard Entertainment, traditional media organizations like ESPN or Turner Broadcasting that are dabbling with this new market and numerous smaller companies looking to establish themselves. Some pro Esports teams have also partnered with traditional sports teams like the Detroit Renegades.

Image by Sam Churchill

The fact that Esports is based on the Internet, especially around streaming on Twitch, means that a panoply of small players can participate and try to find their place. This includes not just the companies that run and sponsor the big tournaments, but announcers, players, media advisors, managers and game play analysts.

Having watched a few tournaments of different kinds, I am sometimes surprised by some of the ways the hard core aficionado community fails to reach out to the more casual viewer. The broadcasters core audience is the hard-core fans who play themselves and are immersed in the game, but the much larger community of casual viewers represents a huge untapped resource, just as tennis broadcasts make most of their money from people who can barely hit a tennis ball.

With that in mind, I have a few suggestions for twitch streamers looking to reach out to the non-expert audience.

  • Note that viewing audiences take a while to build up, and non-experts need to be curated and hand-held much more than passionate experts who are willing to actively search out information.

  • Advertise streaming broadcasts repeatedly, and update web sites actively to reflect current information, schedule changes, and news. This means hourly or more when tournaments are taking place.

  • Streaming broadcasts, such as on Twitch, need to start on time and, in fact start early even if it is mere filler content.

  • Pre-game "countdown" footage is often a still image with some music. It would be better to have live discussion or commentary, not mater how vacuous. In fact, to engage non-experts this can include basic tips and a synopsis of game play and what to watch for.

  • Amusing nicknames are a classic part of Internet culture, but when a game features a faceoff between "Toiletman" and "Dr. PeePee" it's a lot harder for viewer to leave with the feeling that it was a serious game between professional players. (Dr. Peepee selected his name back in 7th grade, gradually became well-known with that handle

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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