By Keith Austin, CEO, EMS
Gaming is no longer the anti-social pastime it once was. Instead of playing or watching games at home – alone or in small groups – fans are coming together in their thousands for real-life celebrations of digital gaming experiences. Almost by the day, gaming-related conventions and competitive eSports tournaments are popping up in major cities all over the world.
For those unfamiliar, eSports involves the world’s top gamers playing competitively against another individual or team. Games with the biggest following or player base attract the most attention, with some matches and tournaments bringing in millions of online viewers and thousands of attendees to arenas across the world.
In the UK, Wembley’s SSE Arena is now an established eSports venue, whilst Twickenham Stadium, home to England’s national rugby teams, is going down a similar avenue with the opening of a dedicated eSports suite and events booked throughout the year.
These events enable so much more than seeing competitive matches live however, giving fans the chance to purchase virtual and physical merchandise, try out new gaming products and get involved with a unique social experience. What’s clear, is there is a massive opportunity for traditionally digital brands to capitalise on a phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down.
According to event management and ticketing website, Eventbrite, fans are demanding more events, more often and in more locations. In fact, a key problem for many attendees of these events has been their location – with 40% of ticket-buyers stating they want to see more live events outside of major cities. If a gaming studio or eSports association was to make these unique experiences more accessible, there’s no doubt hordes of fans would jump at the opportunity.
To put the potential of this market into context, you need only take the most highly attended eSports event of all-time – organised by production company ESL – IEM Katowice 2019. This event saw multiple competitive tournaments take place over the course of two weekends. Over 174,000 fans bought tickets and packed into Poland’s Spodek arena. Online, there was a further 230 million fans tuned in to the action. This means that of the total audience, only 0.1% were physically in the arena. It begs the question; how could ESL have capitalised on the other 99.9% of engaged fans?
Traditionally we’ve seen these events isolated to arenas and online live-streams, but who’s to say a more ambitious approach couldn’t open a whole host of new opportunities. If ESL had held numerous live screenings of the matches in locations across the world, how much more of this 230 million viewership could they have involved? Many fans simply do not have the means to travel to Katowice or London and are counting on a more accessible opportunity.
If we look beyond live screening, there are new and exciting ways we can engage this audience. As revealed by Eventbrite, we know that fans want access to exclusive products and experiences, so why not provide merchandise stores and meet-and-greets with game developers and eSports stars. Community is another key demand, so why not create fan areas for attendees to compete against one another, or Q&A sessions where fans can give direct feedback on upcoming products.
Whilst the current growth rate of the industry may be enough for some, the real opportunity lies with the remaining 99.9%. Fans truly want to socialise and interact with people who share their interests, forge new friendships and make memories with like-minded people. It is now up to those at the forefront of the industry to answer those demands.
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