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Articles

Esport is real sport - with real revenue potential

May 15, 2019

Billed as Australia's number one Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament, the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM)) is among the top fixtures on the domestic esports calendar.

Jumbla Motion designer Josh Le Good was in Sydney to check out the event graphics and immerse himself in the experience. What he encountered was a mix of hits - and misses - for the industry. 

 

A traditional sporting experience

From obscenity-laden chanting to tribal clusters of supporters in team kit, entering the bowl of Qudos Bank Arena felt very much like stepping into the stadium at an AFL or Big Bash League match.

“There’s teams, there’s people who love those teams, and the players are idolised. It’s very much like traditional sport,” Josh said.

“If you compare it with football, a headshot in Counter-Strike is like a goal. It’s the same sort of big moment when people get out of their chair and scream. It’s all very visceral.”

And it’s catching on. Mainstream sporting powerhouses have come around to the massive potential of esports engagement in recent years, with the NBA’s Houston Rockets and MLB’s New York Yankees buying into Overwatch League franchises in 2017.

In Australia, the Adelaide Crows (AFL) became the first traditional sports club in Oceania to secure an esports team when purchasing Legacy eSports that same year. Others have since followed suit.

And it’s little wonder they’re interested. PwC has projected annual global esports revenues to tip $1.58 billion by 2022.

 

A promotional goldmine

While the in-stadium atmosphere at IEM rivalled a traditional sporting fixture, standard advertising and promotional installations - like LED hoardings in the seating bowl and concourse screens - were notably absent.

With this in mind, Josh said the breadth of opportunity for advertisers and organisers at esports events like IEM was immense.

“There was so much opportunity that wasn’t taken, and a lot less advertising than I expected,” Josh said.

“When I think of somewhere like the MCG or AAMI Park, there’s a lot of digital signage around the edges of those arenas - places for advertising and motion graphics.

“That may have been a conscious choice based on the market, or something that was forced due to lack of hardware at the stadium, but it was noticeable when sitting in the crowd.”

 

Where were the advertisers?

The challenge with esport markets is that they’re harder to reach via traditional channels than less technically-skilled audiences. They use Facebook less, delete cookies, browse privately and engage ad-blockers.

But there’s a school of thought that contends it can be achieved … if brands do their homework. How? By creating relevant content after spending time understanding the community and how they want to be marketed to - or hiring someone already passionate about esports.

 

Signs of visual opportunity

In-stadium LED advertising – with the right messaging – could represent an opportunity for brands and organisers to leverage the power of motion graphics in a way that mirrors the approach of mainstream sports, according to Josh.

“From the event-presentation side of things, there was a lot we could have done as an animation studio to build on the experience for gamers,” Josh said.

“Think about LED signage around the stadium that could light up with animations during key moments of the game.

“You could fire something around that ring when the terrorists plant a bomb. People might be watching the main action on the screen, but we could use motion graphics as a cue in their peripheral vision that something important was happening.

“Seeing so many opportunities is pretty exciting, particularly as the industry is coming on in Australia.”

 

A truly immersive experience

Even absent the use of motion graphics around the seating bowl, Josh was blown away by the event experience.

“If you told me 10 years ago that one day I’d live in a world where I could go to a stadium full of thousands of fans to watch a game of Counter-Strike, I probably would have laughed in your face,” he said.

“From an auditory perspective the sound of those weapons going off in a stadium environment, through those huge speakers, was something I’ve never experienced before. It really mixed with the roar of the crowd when the guys were destroying their enemies.”

 

The future of Australian esports

With IEM Sydney’s prize pool hitting $250,000 USD – including $100,000 USD for tournament winner Team Liquid – Australian esport is becoming a serious contender for the hearts, minds and discretionary budget of players and spectators alike.

It’s a small - but growing - part of the ballooning global esports advertising revenues driven by viewership numbers, which now rival the NFL Super Bowl (100 million unique viewers watched the 2018 League of Legends World Championships; just over 103 million watched the 2018 Super Bowl).

With figures like that, it’s little wonder PwC is projecting annual global esports revenue to top $1.5 billion by 2022.

“The fact that we can go to a stadium on a Friday morning for a qualifying final, for a video game, and see that the stands are three-quarters full? That’s a massive deal,” Josh said.

“Esports in Australia is just going to keep growing. We have evidence of that in the last 5-10 years and I can’t see things slowing down. The prize pools are getting bigger, the fan base is expanding and I think it will end up becoming more mainstream.

“As an extension, the market for creative advertising and event graphics at tournaments should see similar growth. It’s an exciting prospect as a motion designer who loves gaming.”

 

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