An unlikely hero?
The current global pandemic has turned the majority of people’s lives upside down. Unable to go to work, unable to have social interactions and unable to lead their everyday lives.
But in every seemingly dark situation, there is always glimmers of light with new industries thriving. This time, it’s the turn of the gaming industry, one that has been widely slated for decades.
Often pinned as a factor in causing childhood obesity and tenuously linked to mental health, parents have tried to limit the amount of time their children spend in front of their game’s consoles for years. But with current lockdown measures in place, children have flocked to gaming platforms to keep in touch with friends and engage in social interactions with people outside of their own four walls, much to the encouragement of their parents.
But it’s not just children that have picked up controllers and looked towards gaming to provide entertainment during this crisis. It appears to be people of all ages. In March, Steam reached a new record of 20.3 million concurrent players using its platform. While one of the biggest games of 2020 so far, Call of Duty Warzone; saw 15 million players in the first three days after launch. With people unable to leave their homes, these games now provide their main source of entertainment and interaction with friends, leading many through the crisis.
The rise of eSports
Similarly, the amount of people watching eSports has risen dramatically since the start of the year. Already a booming industry, experts had predicted a 15.7% growth in the esports industry before Covid-19 took hold, with the current crisis only looking to bolster this growth further.
There are several factors that have helped eSports thrive in recent months, most notably the influx of real-world sports stars now taking part in regular online leagues. Providing eSports with a new level of prestige, it has shaken the stigma that eSports was purely for teenagers and thrust the industry into the mainstream. With sports unable to take place, these eSports championships offer stars the chance to remain relevant, uphold agreements with sponsors and provide entertainment to thousands of fans all in one go.
With fans starved of real-world sporting activities, many who previously slated these championships and stated they would never “watch someone else play a video game” have been pleasantly surprised by the realism and competitiveness of these virtual alternatives.
Motorsport, in particular, has thrived off this idea. With drivers able to race in professional-grade simulators against their real-world rivals on a variety of racing platforms, at circuits around the world to offer fans a realistic replacement to tide us over. And it’s working.
ESports viewership jumped up 17% between January and March this year, with 1.75 billion minutes of content watched. Formula 1’s virtual Grand Prix average 350,000 live views per race. While across the Atlantic, Indycar and NASCAR have each broken viewership records, with the latter achieving 1.3 million views on a single race.
Is it more than just a game?
Aside from providing fans with a few hours of entertainment each week, is there any longevity in online gaming and streaming?
The answer seems to be a resounding yes. However, the industry appears to be at a crossroads. With the current unique situation, many new series and leagues have formed. Each vying for consumer attention, desperate to carve a corner of the market for themselves. But the danger lies in oversaturating the market. Since their introduction, and despite the previously stated records. Both Indycar and NASCAR have seen a fall in viewership week-on-week for their individual series.
The pros and cons
While some experts claim this is due to fatigue from watching too many series. It can be said that there are now too many to choose from. Time is always a limiting factor, and it could quite simply be due to their being too many conflicting sessions that people are unable to commit to watching everyone. The industry is in danger of cannibalising itself before it really becomes mainstream. That’s before you even begin to think about external issues such as internet connections…
But on the other hand, this lockdown period has opened the eyes of many. Not just individuals, but also major brands. If a year ago, you had approached many and suggested that they become a title sponsor of an online gaming league. In most cases, they would not have even considered this as a viable marketing opportunity to reach mass audiences.
Fast forward to now, and with the ability brand these sporting leagues as professionally as the TV broadcasts from which they originate, and with viewing figures that rival some TV channels. Brands have been awakening to a new form of advertising that will help them connect with many of the key audiences that they have been trying to reach.
You only have to look as far as how the Supercars Championship has positioned itself alongside BP and other major sponsors to realise that this is no longer teenagers in their bedrooms streaming their favourite game. This is an industry on the brink of exploding. With many sports stars having regular downtime in-between their commitments, the ability to give their sponsors additional coverage. Whilst simultaneously building their personal brand during this time presents a significant new opportunity for all involved.
Will eSports win over the masses?
With its significant growth and new global audiences, combined with a newfound legitimacy from real-world sports stars competing against their fans. It appears esports, and gaming as a whole has surged in popularity.
It is no longer seen as just a ‘game’, in most cases. Many now see it as a sport like any other. In fact, there has been a 20% weekly rise in gaming betting since lockdown. In March, Fifa 2020 had more total bets than Overwatch, StarCraft 2 and Call of Duty combined. With the Nevada Gaming Control Board also rushing through approval for betting on League of Legends, Call of Duty and Overwatch leagues. As soon as gambling is involved, it creates a new dynamic for the industry. While some may not welcome it, it will bring much-needed benefits.
In order for gambling to be allowed, the games that are utilised will have to face rigorous checks to ensure no cheating, or rigging can take place. With hackers so prevalent in many of these games. New measures will have to be put in place to ensure that this is eradicated. Although the developers will be doing these with pro leagues in mind, this will also benefit the end consumer. With patches and updates that should improve the overall quality of gameplay.
So, what’s your thought on the gaming and eSports industry? At Momentum Social we see this as a great opportunity for brands and consumers alike to benefit through many avenues. Whether it’s creating new opportunities through sponsorship, or simply curing boredom.