When sports giant ESPN featured the live broadcast of The International 2014, this represented a big step in esports. While the esports moniker was mocked and misunderstood by many non-gamers and sports fans, ESPN would see esports differently. They saw the huge results of The International 2014 and made their next move.
ESPN would soon announce they would start covering esports on their main site. The company that covered the biggest sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and the World Cup would now be covering something new. Esports would be seen side-by-side with traditional sports.
The worldwide center of all things sport was casting their hat into the gaming arena. While some sports fans would be bewildered and think “why are video games being featured on a sports site,” ESPN knew exactly what they were doing.
Twitch’s demographics show its audience is very engaged and prefer it over TV
Twitch’s demographics show its audience is very engaged and prefer it over TV
They were entering a $935 million industry and rapidly growing each year. They were entering an industry that had the coveted 18-35 demographic.
THE SHIFT TO ONLINE MEDIA
With tens of millions of people tuning into EPSN’s main site, TV channels, YouTube, and social media accounts, having esports on the sports network would give the gaming genre a lot of exposure. Many in the older demographic that still rely on TVs for their news and are not computer-savvy will now be exposed to the esports craze on the ESPN platform.
With esports coverage on ESPN, gaming has cracked the once unbreakable, traditional media outlets. More non-gaming companies were formally recognizing Esports.
But as big as ESPN’s reach is, the reach from the sports network was comparatively small compared to online. Whereas being feature on a huge, traditional platform like ESPN 10 or 15 years ago would have been a big deal, today that is not the case.
Esports has eclipsed traditional media on two relatively newer platforms: YouTube and Twitch.tv.
HOW THE GAMING SUBGENRE ON JUSTIN.TV BECAME ONE OF THE BIGGEST ESPORTS PLATFORMS
The passing of the torch from Justin.tv to Twitch
When Justin.tv was launched in early 2007, it would change the way people would consume content online. One of the co-founders, Justin Kan, would attach a camera to himself and record himself 24/7. The idea of recording every minute of your life is called lifecasting. While lifecasting isn’t really popular today, the creation of Justin.tv gave way to two key factors.
Justin.tv allowed anyone to broadcast video online live. And Justin.tv, much like YouTube, allowed anyone to post videos online, bypassing the traditional TV and radio station gatekeepers that dominated media since the very creation of the TV and radio.
The platform started out with a variety of categories to stream under, including life, sports, music, and gaming. Yet, the category that took off was gaming. In just four short years since its 2007 launch, the mega-popular gaming section spawned its own, new site known today as Twitch.tv in 2011.
In 2014, the parent company Justin.tv was rebranded as Twitch Interactive, as the gaming subgenre soon became the face of the company. Amazon would see the platform’s huge reach and later buy Twitch.tv later that year.
Games such as Fortnite are very popular to watch on Twitch
Two of the biggest reasons Twitch.tv grew so exponentially were “Let’s Plays,” where gamers play a game on stream live, and esports, where people play popular esports games such as League of Legends (LoL), DoTA 2, Starcraft 2, and Overwatch.
With the incredible popularity of esports on Twitch.tv, it shows that more viewers are interested in watching competitive gaming online per year. On average, more than 15 million users spend two hours watching Twitch daily.
Moreover, according to a recent Investors article, more people tune into esports on Twitch than traditional outlets such as CNN, MSMBC, Fox, and the aforementioned ESPN. The amount of eyeballs that watch these events from around the world dwarf many sports games.
In fact, if Twitch was considered a TV channel, its viewership would be among the top. As Macquarie analayst says, “[Twitch ranks] squarely among the most-watched U.S. cable channels.”
Huge tournaments such as the DoTA 2 The Invitational, LoL’s World Championships, Overwatch League, and the recently finished fighting tournament EVO draw in well over hundreds of thousands of viewers. Rather than have a cable TV subscription, esports fans can watch the big tournament on Twitch for free.
While Twitch is known as a gaming platform, it does cater to other categories, such as IRL (In Real Life), talk shows, programming tutorials, and social eating.
Twitch, as well as YouTube Live, also allows the viewer another experience: participation from the viewer.
THE ONLINE HUMAN INTERACTION THAT IS MISSING IN TRADITIONAL MEDIA
Unlike TV, Twitch also allows live interaction with the audience. While watching an esports event, viewers can chime in and comment in the chatroom. People can also talk to one another in the chatroom. This form of live commenting made viewers more invested while watching. It empowers the viewer.
But it’s not just major tournament events by big companies that are popular on Twitch.
The solo, everyday streamers on Twitch are also popular and make up the majority of the Twitch community. Many esports players, when not doing scrims (practices for their pro team), like to rewind and live stream their games.
From famous Overwatch league players, Fortnite players, and LoL players to the more casual high-ranked streamers in a given game, gamers can watch and learn how to play like their favorite players.
Often times, these streamers will read the comments, react to them, and interact with their audience. The audience can see the “real” pro player, away from any PR, rules, and editing. Watching a player live stream is akin to having thousands of gamers in the same room enjoying a game together. This adds a more authentic experience viewers just cannot get with TV.
Thus, many streamers become famous and soon build a legion of fans behind them. And where there’s a huge audience, there’s brands and investors not to far behind them.
BRANDING ON TWITCH STREAMS
To say that Twitch is a brand’s dream come true would be an understatement. In addition to having the coveted 18-35 demographic, Twitch users actually don’t mind sponsored content and ads. Studies show that 80% support brands that sponsor games and 82% agree that sponsorships help support the gaming industry. Gamers are also quite charitable, as 78% of them would like to see more charity in gaming.
Compare this to TV. The general watcher is bombarded with the constant commercials and ads. Shows that are 30 minutes long are actually about 22 minutes long, since commercials take up about 8 minutes of that time. With the TV audience becoming more indifferent and annoyed towards ads, it makes sense why brands are eyeing both Twitch and YouTube for future expansion.
EVO places their sponsors in a non-intrusive way, allowing the viewer to see the action
When watching a major event, such as the fighting event EVO, the organizers display their sponsors in a way where it’s not intrusive to the viewer experience. When product placements on hats and clothing are seen on live stream, it’s generally acceptable. When shoutouts to sponsors are given on stream, they usually last for a minute or less. While they are a few ads that run exceptionally long, for the most part, there’s less ads on Twitch than on TV.
Non-gaming companies, such as T-Mobile, who partnered up with Blizzard and its Overwatch League, and Bud Light and Red Bull, which sponsors esports players, are just two brand names that have embraced the esports platform.
Other food companies that have joined the Twitch ad fray include Coke, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Totino’s, and KFC.
Old Spice took Twitch branding to a new level back in 2015. Going with the theme of interaction, they created a live-streaming adventurer in the middle of the woods. Then they allowed the Twitch comment stream to control what he did next.
Gaming sponsorship for famed individuals are also quite lucrative for brands. Huge Twitch gaming personalities like PewDiePie and Ninja, the later who played Fortnite with Drake, bring a lot of exposure to brands who sponsor them.
With both gaming companies, as well as non-gaming companies pouring millions of dollars to be seen on esports events on Twitch, the esports takeover is now here.