By Alec Moylan
October 9, 2018
Traditional sports integration with esports has been a very interesting undertaking going on in the world. Esports have not always been recognized for their glory. “It’s not a sport…. It’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports,” said John Skipper, the President of ESPN in a 2014 Media Series event.
At the time, the comment seemed logical. Why would a large company operating in the sports industry invest in Eports (or as Skipper would call it, Ecompetition)?
Months after John Skipper made those comments, ESPN streamed a League of Legends tournament that netted ESPN more viewers than the NBA Finals and the last game of the MLB World Series.
In 2015, ESPN had its first programmed esports event, airing a pro gaming tournament (Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm) on ESPN2.
Whether it’s a sport or not really didn’t matter anymore. There was money to be made, and professional sports franchises wanted to be ahead of the curve.
In May 2016, German Soccer club FC Schalke became the first professional franchise to join the LCS League (League of Legends Championship Series) when they bought a team formerly known as The Elements.
On September 26th, 2016, the Philadelphia 76’ers became the first team in North America to try their hand in professional gaming with the purchase of Team Dignitas, one of the most popular teams in Europe.
Today, over 17 NBA owners own or sponsor an Esports team. Also, many NFL and NHL owners also have investments in teams or leagues. Worldwide, especially in soccer, these partnerships are forming left and right. But why are we seeing this trend? I believe it’s because they’re the perfect match.
When Esports first appeared on TV, the industry had two major flaws stunting its growth: money and a lack of structure.
Until recently, Esports consisted of a bunch of loosely strung-together tournaments that awarded huge prizes but lack the financial and organizational structure to provide stability. There were very few leagues that advertised, marketed, or even made money. Esports was stuck, but when the world took notice, the industry found the perfect investors to break through.
Who better to develop a professional Esports industry than the professional sports industries themselves? Not only can they supply the ample funding — with recent investments ranging from 5–15 million — professional teams already have the blueprint on how to organize leagues, manage players, create collective sharing agreements, handle tickets and merchandise, etc.
In other words, the framework, as well as the connections professional sports franchises can provide are absolutely unmatched. However you might be wondering, what do these major sports clubs get out of the deal?
Research by Newzoo projects that by 2020, competitive gaming will generate over $1.5 billion in yearly revenue. The trajectory of the industry is quite promising, but Esports provides its investors with much more than simply revenue.
Stadiums have a problem, and that problem is when the main sports are out of season, the stadium struggles to make money. Esports is a powerful drawing card to fill arenas. Consider the 2014 League of Legends World Final held in Seoul’s Sangram Stadium that held 45,000 fans for the event.
With the popularity and infrastructure of Esports burgeoning, events like the one in Seoul will no longer be an anomaly, but normality.
Video games are an activity that transcends cultural boundaries. While the NFL, NBA, and the MLB have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to expand their reach, Esports already has a footing in every livable continent in the world.
Especially in Asian markets, leagues such as the NBA and NFL have already begun to use Esports as a tool to cultivate brand awareness and trust.
No matter what any investors tell you, demography matters. Companies know to adapt and continue their grow well into the future, you must appeal to the younger generations.
While a significant portion of young Americans is cutting their cable cords, 92% of American youth play video games at least once a week. Professional teams know that without cable TV, communication with the youth must come from a digital platform.
Traditional sports integration with esports is a smart investment by the franchise owners since it keeps an active line of communication with future generations, thus keeping them connected and loyal to their brand(s).
Nobody saw the partnership between traditional sports and Esports coming. Only time will tell whether the problems that plague professional sports leagues will bleed over into the world for Esports as well. All I know is that the buzz surrounding Esports has never been louder, the reach has never been farther, and the world of entertainment may never be the same.