For those who don’t know, esports is professional gaming, and its popularity has been growing year on year. The 2015 League of Legends World Championship Final pulled in 14 million people, all watching at the same time, a record for esports, which is made even more impressive by the fact it was an all Korean final. But will it ever become mainstream? My guess. Not without some changes. When you look at viewing figures for the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) 2016 Spring Split finals EU managed only 575,168 at its peak, while NA drew in the slightly larger 650,002 these numbers go down for the Mid-Season Invitational which peaked at 432,871. Probably not helped by the early games times due to it being held in China.
Whilst League of Legends dominates the esports scene it is impossible to talk of events and viewers without mentioning CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive), the first person shooter (FPS) beats off competition from Call of Duty (CoD) to be the most popular in its class. In 2015 CS:GO hosted 4 big torments and the figures are astounding. ESL One Cologne 2015 had 27 million unique viewers (how many people in total watched the event), DreamHack Cluj 2015 had almost 26 million, then a massive drop off for ESL One Katowice 2015 which managed 8.7 million and Gfinity Championship Series 2015 which had slightly fewer viewers. These numbers are the second, third, fourth and fifth highest numbers for esport events only behind the League of Legends World Championship in the same year, which had 36 million views. However what is worrying for CS:GO is that when you look at peak viewers the highest event was ESL One Cologne 2015 which out of the 27 million viewers the views only peak at 1.3 million views at the same time.
Now whilst these numbers are amazing for what is essentially people sitting at a computer, it pales in comparison to the 2015 UEFA Champions League Final which average TV audience was 145 million. Now whilst I’m not saying that I have all the answers, that if ESL (who run CS:GO) and Riot follow my advice then esports is going to overtake football as the world’s favourite sport, I’m just trying to be the voice of solutions rather than problems.
- Regionalised teams. From what I can see a big problem for esports is that on the whole fans have no ownership over their teams. Big established teams like Fnatic and TSM hoover up fans with their history, success and S tire players such as Febiven or Doublelift. Other teams attempt to make year one mega teams, such as Immortals or Vitality, which will attract the bandwagoners. However you only need to look at Formula One to see how quickly people will change allegiances. This leaves the smaller teams to make up the numbers and leads to usual damp squibs of games between the top and middle to bottom tire teams as the fan vote is overwhelmingly in favour of the larger team (Unless you are like Elements “Steve”, who gets his own crowd chant). What Riot and ESL need to do is have each team give its allegiance to a country. For instance the EU LCS’s Giants Gaming are seen as a team from Spain, what I think needs to happen is for them to be a team representing Spain. I’m not saying that there has to be only one team per country, far from it. I believe it would be beneficial to have several teams from the same country to create a derby atmosphere. What forcing teams to represent a country would do would give the smaller teams a chance at gathering a fan base. Sticking to the LCS my system would mean that Splyce v Elements would be far more interesting as it could essentially be Denmark v Germany, and dare I say, people may actually watch.
- Tour the LCS. Now this is more directly aimed at Riot, as ESL spread out their competitions at the big gaming conventions. For those who don’t know, Riot have based the EU LCS in Berlin. However Riot should look at moving the tournament around week by week, I understand that for some poor sod that would involve a lot of work but I think that work would be paid back in extra revenue and extra fans. During the 2015 World Championships Riot showed they could sell out 10,000+ arenas in Europe, I’m not brave enough to suggest that they would sell those out on a weekly basis but for instance, the Copper box in London holds 4 thousand and would easily sell out as part of the touring LCS calendar. It would allow more fans to attend the events spending a fortune on merch (trust me I went to worlds last year), give non-German teams home advantage and allow for greater sponsorship opportunities. Whilst the end of season play-offs are moved to different cities I believe the regular season should do the same.
- Invest in the people. While there are such thing as esports viewing parties I don’t think enough is being done. During events such as the Football or Rugby world cup, fan parks are erected around the globe. This brings people who wouldn’t normally sit down and watch the match at home into the sport. One of the biggest challenges for esports is convincing casual gamers and non-games that it is a genuine sport with genuine competition. Could you imagine how amazing a fan park in central London would be? People in incredible cosplay walking around, craft beer tents with witty gaming related names, a giant screen with some ex-pros casting and signing sessions. Living in London I have seen how excited people get for Comic-con. It’s not hard to see people who religiously watch esports at home dragging their friends to an esports fan park, not to mention those who would just wander in and discover it. I would also recommend further investing in esports bars. I have been to three around the world and have to say the greatest atmosphere is at London’s Meltdown bar (address and website will be at the bottom of the page if interested), now does London need another one? Probably not but investment should be made in these bars from the companies to increase enthusiasm and to establish new ones. As a football fan I love watching the game at the pub, meeting my friends and the banter with opposition fans. Pushing this would help people who are interested in traditional sports but don’t really understand esports get a foothold.
Whilst I don’t think that I have all the answers and that I have the magic equation to build a esports empire where we all wear those amazing pink CLG jerseys and own our very own Kasing necklace I believe these steps would help move esports fan out from behind their computers and into more social environment, this would make it less intimidating for newcomers to join and with a luck make a world where people aren’t looked down on as sad or loners for watching esports.
342 Caledonian Rd, London N1 1BB
TheEnigmaBlade (2016) Spring split finals – viewer count(new record) • /r/leagueoflegends. Available at: https://www.reddit.com/r/leagueoflegends/comments/4faurn/spring_split_finals_viewer_countnew_record/ (Accessed: 18 May 2016).In-line Citation:(TheEnigmaBlade, 2016)
TheEnigmaBlade (2016) MSI 2016(finals & Semi-Finals) – viewer statistics • /r/leagueoflegends. Available at: https://www.reddit.com/r/leagueoflegends/comments/4jfi5i/msi_2016finals_semifinals_viewer_statistics/ (Accessed: 18 May 2016).In-line Citation:(TheEnigmaBlade, 2016)
De Guzman, J.N. (2015) The world’s biggest and best eSports arenas. Available at: http://www.redbull.com/uk/en/esports/stories/1331708454458/the-biggest-and-best-esports-stadiums-in-the-world (Accessed: 18 May 2016).In-line Citation:(De Guzman, 2015)
LoL Esports (no date) Available at: http://www.lolesports.com/en_US/articles/worlds-2015-viewership (Accessed: 18 May 2016).In-line Citation:(LoL Esports, no date)
Kresse, +c. (2016) ESports in 2015 by the numbers: Attendance figures, investments and prize money. Available at: http://esports-marketing-blog.com/esports-in-2015-attendance-figures-investments-prize-money/#.Vzw69PkrKM9 (Accessed: 18 May 2016).In-line Citation:(Kresse, 2016)