Why The Esports Hype Is Real

December 21, 2016

czk7rfnwiae0nfpWhile I am a die-hard sports fans and owner of an Xbox One (which I haven’t powered on since our son was born in April), until about a month ago, all I knew about esports was this:

  • Esports was getting a ton of buzz as the latest “next big thing”
  • Brands, retired athletes and professional sports team owners were sponsoring and even purchasing their own esports teams
  • Esports was becoming prominent enough that media outlets like ESPN and Yahoo developed entire editorial teams to cover it as they would the NFL, MLB or NBA

One of the best things about working at Fast Horse and for a client like The Coca-Cola Company is how frequently you are immersed in new and emerging passions and interests. So, last month, when I found myself on the set of Coca-Cola’s first eCOPA Coca-Cola tournament in the new esports arena at the Fifth Avenue Microsoft Store in New York, I felt both exhilarated and — in the parlance of gamers — like a total noob.

Over the course of three hours, four college students from around the country competed in “EA Sports FIFA 2017” on Xbox One for a cash prize and wildcard berth into a global esports tournament. The tournament was broadcast live via Twitch, complete with play-by-play and color commentary. I was on set with a reporter from ESPN.com who covered the tournament as one would a football game or tennis match. It felt like I was dropped somewhere in the future — esports is only going to get bigger — and also the past, perhaps the early days of the NFL, where people must have looked on and thought, “I’m not sure what this is I’m looking at, but I like it and I think it’s going to be massive.”

I can’t pretend to be an expert on esports, but the eCopa Coca-Cola project gave me some time to think about why the sport is primed to grow:

It’s a true meritocracy. While most sports require physical gifts in order for one to excel — height for basketball, mass for football — anyone can play esports and do it well. The difference between novices and the best esports players in the world is quite simply practice, strategy and reaction.

It has decades of best marketing, licensing and growth practices learned from the other pro sports teams. And in very short order, pro sports teams from other leagues will look to esports as the example for building rabid fan communities. In fact, the community experience is arguably the key to esports’ booming business. Look no further than Twitch for proof.

It doesn’t require multibillion-dollar infrastructure. Esports teams do not belong to cities in the same way as traditional pro sports teams. Instead, tournaments take place in the country’s biggest and best-known venues — and they sell out. Fast. The 2016 League of Legends world championships at the Staples Center in Los Angeles sold out all 15,000 tickets in just five minutes.

It hasn’t even scratched the surface of making household names of its biggest stars. To date, the success of esports can be attributed to fan appreciation for the play itself. There’s a huge opportunity for brands to tell stories and shed light on the world’s best esports players. Many have huge personalities and broad ranges of talent that span into other endeavors, like extreme sports and competitive gambling.

It’s affordable to play and watch. Most esports games are available to play online or download for free. And through Twitch, there also is free and easy access to viewing.

Check out the broadcast of eCOPA Coca-Cola in the YouTube clip below: