Over the past few months, I have received a lot of requests to explain what eSports is from a variety of industries.
And usually after I explain that in Australia it is now a $1.2 billion industry and that its reaches 250 million viewers globally, I see the light bulb moment,
These numbers are projected to double, if not triple by 2020.
Given that the Australian eSport market is still in its infancy, there is a blank canvas that exists to shape the future of the industry, and more importantly, the future of millennial and post-millennial marketing, the ascendency of women in the sector and product differentiation across a multitude of business enterprises.
So what is eSports really? eSports (or eGaming as it is often incorrectly named), is competitive online gaming. Not gambling, but the oft maligned phenomenon of video games.
People battling it out across console and PC platforms on a variety of games and competitions – much like traditional sport, except you are playing in your living room across the internet, or on stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people – all streamed globally around the world on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.
While often seen by parents as an anti-social way from their kids to spend leisure time instead of playing traditional sports, it is in fact a team pursuit which is highly social and develops the same desirable core life-skills of teamwork and strategy – just via a screen as opposed to a field.
And professional eSports are lucrative. Prize pools are reaching upward of $10 million worldwide with huge fan bases following the top teams. The average consumer age is 14-35 comprising men and women and it is therefore the perfect vehicle to target millennials for business growth.
Virtual advertising, for example, within online games has been active for some years. Traditional sponsorship and advertising deals within traditional televised sports has now spread to eSports.
In America, the NBA have signed up their own eSports teams, in the UK British Premier League have followed suit and most recently the AFL Adelaide Crows in Australia. It makes perfect business sense – 24/7 year round marketing and hype with the added bonus of revitalising declining traditional television viewership.
What is unique about eSports is that there is no gender bias in capability or proficiency. A top women’s team is just as competitive as a top men’s team. It is not about size and strength, but strategy and skill.
Unlike traditional sport where we see male dominated viewership and media commentary, eSports is mixed. A business could promote any product and it would reach a market of men and women who are disengaged with traditional advertising platforms.
This gender equity is not only in viewership, but gaming participation as well. With the physical segmentation of traditional sports stripped away, we now see an even playing field with male and female gamers – the first time in history any sport of this size has been equal.
The contrary question I am asked is why the top echelon of eSports is still dominated by men and the female skill level seems generally lower. Why are there not more women playing in the top skill level? It simply equates to how much exposure a player has to that top tier.
For example, a lower grade team only ever playing against teams of their comparable skill level will not improve in technique and strategy. However, if you provide opportunities for that lower level team to play in a higher skill bracket, it will evolve, learn and, with practice, attain a more competitive level of play. This is now happening.
Full gender equality at the professional level will take time to evolve as eSports is only just gaining recognition as a global game beyond male dominance. The Australian eSports Media Group (AEMG) now has a dedicated women’s league (WPGI) – a women’s only Counter-strike GO league.
It is attempting to rectify the imbalance by giving female gamers a foundational platform to play competitively to assist with making the next skill jump to professional ranking. I have no doubt that within 1-2 years we will see not only highly competitive women’s teams, but mixed teams gracing the virtual international stages.
When we look at what eSports is holistically, it has all the ingredients for corporate success. Large revenue streams and investment potential, broad viewership, a ‘sweet spot’ mobile target audience, exceptional growth opportunities and an industry riding the hyped disruptor train. Big corporates and businesses should pay close attention to this emerging industry and its market, particularly when crafting millennial marketing strategy and looking at new product innovations.
I am very keen to see what this dynamic virtual canvas will look like in 2-3 years’ time, as eSports, with its unique gender equity ambition, is here to stay.