How long will it be before we see an Olympic Medal awarded in e-sports? Not so long ago, that would seem a ridiculous question. Medals were for fit and strong athletes – higher, stronger, faster etc. Right? And certainly not for the spotty geeks, chewing on junk food, buried in the darkness of their bedroom lairs staring into a phosphorescent future.
But where there’s money and a market, sport (or, perhaps more accurately, gaming?) soon appears. This article on the big money world of professional online gaming caught our eye yesterday.
A few of our stadium clients (Frankfurt’s busy Commerzbank Arena and the UK’s Ricoh Arena and NEC facilities both spring to mind) have already hosted e-sport tournaments as useful additions to the empty summer calendar. Earlier this month, 113,000 supporters attended the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice, Poland, the largest annual e-sports event, which has awarded prize money of $5.6m (€5m) over the past ten years.
However, this is just the first wave of new sporting (gaming) tournaments. In fact, several new sports events are featured in TheStadiumBusiness Awards this year, such as drone racing competitions, e-sports and even mass participation pop-up days.
Unsurprisingly, e-sports are catching the attention of the big brands. They are drawn to the elusive demographic of men aged 17-30, which tournaments organised by League of Legends and the games group Riot Games, do so well at reaching. This group is rapidly losing interest in traditional sports events, which they may perceive as slow or boring but, most of all, lacking in interactivity (unless your Fan Experience is doing the right thing). Indeed, why be happy to be a spectator when e-sports let you be the competitor!
As Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s head of global gaming, states in the article: “The Super Bowl is a massively viewed event with more than 111 million viewers [in the US]. But when you layer on a gender and age split that we’re very interested in as a consumer packaged goods company, it comes pretty far down.”
Investors used to be sceptical about gaming as, just like pop music, a hits-driven business beholden to the success of a few key titles. But a positive change to the business model, moving from expensive retail distribution to downloads, recurring digital content and mobile gaming, drove revenue growth, improving margins.
E-sports may be the next step. Activision wants to create an “ESPN of e-sports”, hiring an ex-CEO of ESPN to lead that effort. One of the most successful sports broadcasters in history is now popularising e-sports for the general public.
How long before we are filling our stadia with drones, geeks and interaction? How long before the IOC announces the first e-sports Olympic Medal? Based on this growth path, not long at all.