In any form of competitive environment, being accessible to fans and viewers – new and current ones alike – is paramount in ensuring reach, relevance, continued growth and most importantly, longevity. This is evident through the world’s most popular sport, football, which did not achieve that status solely relying on its player base alone – but through a vast network and effective strategy to remain in the public’s consciousness, spearheaded by its worldwide broadcasting reach.
This carefully planned strategy sees that FIFA’s biggest tournament, the World Cup has become accessible to everyone around the globe regardless of their country’s participation not only propelled football into the number one sport where it is widely known, but in locations where it isn’t naturally popular. Case point, the United States.
A Fifa-commissioned review of the recent 2018 World Cup in Russia indicated that the final’s television audience was a whopping 516.6 million. The review further claims that almost half of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people in some way watched the 2018 World Cup, with a staggering 1.12 billion watching at least one minute of France beating Croatia 4-2 in the final.
This success was swiftly followed by a record breaking numbers for a previously oft-overlooked tournament, the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019 which saw a combined record breaking 1.12 billion viewers tuning into official broadcast coverage of the tournament across all platforms.
So how does esports fit into all of this? For one, esports due to its niche nature, face a similar hurdle to what football – or soccer – encountered when trying to penetrate into the American market in the early 90s. Discounting the diehard fans who are already part of the converted, both scene’s biggest task is getting itself into the radar of new audience.
Luckily, video games – or in this case, esports have an ace up their sleeves. Streaming services such as Twitch, YouTube and Facebook have been immensely significant in contributing towards the rapid growth of video games these past few years. The recent emergence of Mixer, a streaming platform owned by Microsoft has increased the avenues on how esports can be consumed by viewers regardless of their level of interest in the scene. A gargantuan amount of content is just a click away and publishers and esports organizers alike have been smart in capitalising on this.
While high viewership numbers are expected for world-level tournaments such as DotA2’s The Internationals and League of Legends’s Worlds Championships, a more consistent and frequent high viewership number will inevitably drive in fresh eyes to jump in on the bandwagon.
Following its encouraging debut in 2018, the second season of the Overwatch League prove that an esports circuit can be run and broadcasted similar to how traditional sports are. Earlier this year, the Overwatch League saw a 30% year-on-year increase of viewership for the opening week of their 2019 season.
The Grand Finals which was held last month also saw significant growth of 16% in average viewership numbers signalling overall growth in reach.
A Nielsen third-party reporting showed that the Overwatch League being the only sports league to witness growth in the 18-34 year old demographic worldwide.
When the Demonstration Games at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games was broadcast to televisions worldwide last year, viewers who have never even heard of esports, or even skeptics who questioned the scene’s legitimacy were finally given a glimpse of how similar competitive gaming is to traditional sports. Like football, hockey and other sports which the masses are more accustomed with, the wider audience are now exposed to the fact that esports operate on the same goal of outplaying your opponents while adhering to a specified set of rules.
The Overwatch League and the 2018 Asian Games have shown that all it takes is a glimpse of esports to change perception and gain new fans of competitive gaming. Just around the corner is the 2019 SEA Games and in 2020, we cannot wait to see esports hit the biggest stage of all, by appearing alongside the Olympics via the Intel World Open.