Numerous factors came together to make 2020 the year online gaming and eSports went mainstream. Accordingly we are now seeing many traditional media organizations vying to establish a presence on platforms such as Twitch. The grass-roots of the eSports community is rooted in the collaborative streaming format exemplified by Amazon’s popular eSports brand. Twitch now has 140 million active users engaging with 27,000 affiliated streamers.
The overall eSports industry has seen its global viewership double since 2015 with a market valuation of $1.9 billion and growth of 9% year-on-year up to 2023. Sporting leagues such as the NBA and the UFC are among the familiar names looking to make an impact in what was once a purely video-game oriented sector.
Gaming platform PokerStars, who host both physical and eSports competitions, have been establishing themselves on Twitch for a number of years. In 2020 they launched their Stadium Series tournament which resulted in the highest prize payout Twitch had yet seen, with the winners receiving $52 million. In what could be seen as a nod to their eSports involvement, they re-launched their PokerStars brand coming into 2021 with marketing centered around the slogan “I’m In”, stating that their intention with this is to bring together like-minded players into a vibrant gaming community. This collaborative element is at the heart of what makes this new media so innovative for fans and organizations alike, effectively bridging the gap between social media and televised programming.
Football is another sport that has been exploring ways to involve themselves with this boom. Four of the biggest European clubs: Arsenal, Juventus, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain collectively joined Twitch in July of 2020. All four clubs have been using the service as an opportunity to connect with fans and stream both current and classic matches. Juventus have taken their involvement a step further in hosting a show on their channel referred to as “Pitch for Twitch”. Presented in the format of a quiz-show competition, its aim is to discover Juventus’ ultimate fan.
The crowned winner will then be offered the opportunity to work as a presenter for the club on their Twitch channel. This is a trend we are likely to see develop over the coming years as traditional media outlets explore new ways to integrate their entertainment products and news coverage more deeply with the eSports/Streaming model.
League of Legends is an incredibly popular game in the MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre. Since its release in 2009 it has become an eSports favorite and is among the most popular and best known eSports games worldwide. Developers Riot Games have been hosting competitive events for the game under the banner of their League of Legends Championship series (LCS), which is the largest eSports tournament in North America, for a number of years. The series has drawn big investment and media coverage into the eSports space that has been focused around bringing the presentation of the events into alignment with the likes of the NBA or NFL.
Coming into 2021, the LCS decided to build a new studio for future competitions. The space, which was unveiled on March 20th with the launch of their Mid Season showdown tournament, is a statement of intent by Riot Games and a celebration of the entire eSports phenomenon. In a press release, Riot Games stated they wanted the space to reflect their love of the game and the fans, and to highlight the characteristics that are unique to competitive gaming as a sport.
They acknowledged the efforts of previous years to make the competition fit for a global mainstream audience, and are now looking to give back to the community that have made the sport the global phenomenon it is fast becoming. The studio is designed to be flexible to the unique demands of eSports, with areas dedicated to online streaming and others geared towards physical events. The studio has a staggering 4100 square feet of LED screens adorning the walls with a total of 4 million pixels between them, making for a spectacular gaming venue. The LCS studio is going to influence the way eSports continues to develop on the ground and will set the tone for future major eSports events in the coming years.