Whether you’re an end user or a vendor, for those intimately involved in sports and entertainment technology, the Sports and Entertainment Alliances in Technology (SEAT) Conference is likely the most compelling and valuable annual events on the calendar. It comprises three days’ of networking, breakout sessions, and peer-to-peer collaboration on the industry’s central focuses today: venue technology – including architecture, design, & security, business intelligence – including data analytics and CRM management, digital marketing and fan engagement, and executive leadership.
Event topics range from the latest trends like in-venue connectivity to more innovative solutions like virtual/augmented reality. One new concept brought to the forefront this year? The emergence and rapid growth of eSports, and its impact, relevance, and future influence on the sporting community.
eSports, or competitive gaming, has been gaining momentum for some time, but has experienced an astronomical spike in popularity and growth just in the last few years: revenue from eSports jumped from $460 million to $655 million in 2017, and could easily exceed $900 million in 2018. And next year it will eclipse $1 billion.
Figure 1: Credit: NewZoo Insights Report [newzoo.com]
eSports has also created an interesting link with ‘traditional’ sports, and has forced us to reconsider our historical definition of an ‘athlete.’ Professional sports teams and their executives are backing existing eSports leagues and players. Universities are creating eSports programs and scholarships; some institutions, like SUNY Canton in New York, are creating their own eSports venues to support and promote these programs.
SEAT recognized the undeniable rise of eSports and its potential connection points with traditional sports, creating a dedicated session for eSports at this year’s conference and featuring it as the center stage panel to kick off day two of the conference.
The keynote panel was titled ‘So You Want to be Involved in the Wild West of eSports,’ aptly named for a nascent market still exploring its own growth possibilities, with a diverse set of speakers:
As the title suggests, the underlying topic was how sports executives can get involved in eSports, but the discussion itself transcended to broader topics related to competitive gaming: compelling data points surrounding the industry today, its many correlations to traditional sports, and the future opportunities that lay ahead. Here are some key takeaways from the discussion.
On the connection between eSports and traditional sports, many of the panelists expressed similar sentiments as those listed above; professional teams and collegiate programs across the world are investing in eSports and incorporating them into their business strategy. To take it a step further, teams and leagues are also using eSports as a vehicle to attract and maintain younger fans. James Ruth shared a fascinating stat about the MLS and his fan demographics: after conducting a series of research across the League they discovered the MLS has a higher percentage of gamers than any other major league (NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB). In fact, 65% of MLS fans said they became fans of the League through gaming. As a result, the eMLS community was formed as a platform for individual teams and their fans to engage with MLS and eSports content and activities.
eSports is a very social, interactive experience. Ryan Chaply of Twitch, a live-streaming video platform, explained that eSports is at the top of the most-viewed and the most-shared videos week over week. This makes sense since its original purpose was to provide access to eSports content, but with tens of millions of streams being recorded every week the numbers are certainly impressive nonetheless. Specific to eSports, Chaply says Twitch allows clubs to connect with eSports fans and gamers in an “authentic, meaningful, 1-to-1 way.”
Ultimately one of the more predominate and overarching sentiments throughout the discussion was that even though eSports is still an immature enterprise its legitimacy is undisputable. So while some may question its definition as and connection to traditional sports, it’s clear it is here to stay. It’ll certainly be interesting to see what’s to come!
For more on eSports, be sure to follow the panelists on Twitter – linked above. For more on the SEAT Conference check out the event landing page or follow them on Twitter at @SEATConference.
To learn how Extreme Networks powers eSports venues with robust, reliable throughput and connectivity, check out the Extreme Networks webpage, and be sure to explore the SUNY Canton eSports customer case study and their in-house eSports program.