The earliest known video game competition took place on 19 October 1972 at Stanford University for the game Spacewar, a basic Newtonian-physics-based galactic shooter. Access to reliable internet connectivity that would follow a few decades later led to more video games being created and large regional and eventually, global tournaments in which to play them competitively.
Fast forward to 2017, where the League of Legends final was watched by over 60 million people worldwide. The worlds’ largest media corporations are already heavily invested in it and major sports franchises such as the Philadelphia 76ers are sponsoring, and even launching, their own teams hoping to strike gold. What is the future for esports and how does the money-machine factor into its success?
To try and get a better idea, I attended an esports workshop as part of the Future Games Summit at the Congress Centre in London. Here I got to meet creative artists, developers, business leaders, technology gurus and more for discussion of the industry in three stages: Future Tech, Future Business and Future Develop. Esports League UK MD James Dean talked at length about where to look to monetise esports and a panel featuring representatives from M&C Saatchi, GAME, esports team Gfinity and more discussed the nature of partnerships between companies and the industry.
Representatives from investment firms, media and communications were in attendance, a fact that seemingly created an air of discomfort among the attending esports enthusiasts and industry figures. Why? The industry is still fundamentally holistic and very tight-knit. Large conglomerates offering money in exchange for their name on the League of Legends Finals stage is a sure-fire way to alienate the fans and hold back efforts to create a lasting brand reputation.
Professional teams, players and competitions are after more than a cheque and brands must show how they can positively contribute to the industry. This can be in any number of ways such as investing time and money in low-return projects like high-school, university and charitable initiatives to gain this trust in the community. Away from the bright lights of the Intel Extreme Masters and the League of Legends finals, companies need to show esports that they can build deeper relationships together.
Better move quickly though. Brand investment is set to double its 2017 total by 2020, pushing the total market to $1.5 billion and consumer spending on tickets and merchandise for 2017 will amount to $64 million, according to esports intelligence firm Newzoo. Clearly the industry is establishing itself as one that brands feel the need to align themselves with, and they will need to be prepared to commit 100% to get the best results.