Data is opening new possibilities for publishers to serve users. The media industry should learn from it.
As many parts of the world slowly emerge from Covid-19 lockdowns it is becoming increasingly clear that some changes are here to stay. The pandemic was a catalyst for digital transformation. It delivered “10 years of growth in 3 months” according to one report on e-commerce by consultancy McKinsey & Co.
One of the sectors best placed to grow in this new digitally transformed landscape is Esports. To be clear, Esports was already on a fast-track before the pandemic hit. Live-streaming games, a major feature of the Esports space, has seen double-digit growth in previous years. Viewership is expected to reach over 920 million in 2024.
But Esports’ growth is not just driven by the world’s shift to digital. Rather, it is about serving a need that neither “classic” sports nor most content creators meet – creating a personalized, interactive space where audiences can be part of the story.
This is both a huge challenge and opportunity for publishers. Esports media needs to create new, innovative products for demanding consumers. This is especially difficult given the lack of central authorities that can regulate and shape the industry. Unlike classic sports, there are no governing bodies that can help legitimize a given set of rules or adjudicate disputes.
But this offers an opportunity for publishers to step into the vacuum. Moreover, the unparalleled availability of data in Esports means publishers are uniquely placed to take publishing to the next level (e.g., creating new types of media products). This gives them a chance to play a lead role in transforming their own industry.
Esports vs Sports: Accessibility and Data
There are two big differences between Esports and “classic” sports, explains Martin Dachselt, CEO of Bayes Esports, an industry data provider.
Firstly, in classic sports, most of the audience are passive spectators. They don’t really interact with the game or play themselves. Part of the reason is a huge barrier to entry, as many sports require unique equipment or travelling to purpose-built facilities.
“Esports is very accessible”, Martin explains. Without significant upfront costs it’s easy to log on and start playing yourself. Hundreds of millions have signed up to play major titles like Counter-Strike or Dota, which in turn has led to a rise in coverage – with hundreds of sites, blogs and live streams dedicated to covering the booming industry.
But it has also led to the rise of unique media products. Indeed, the massive audience of players is also generating its own content – their performance and game data, which can be sifted, analyzed and integrated into media products. “Imagine everyone in the stadium was collecting data on their mobile,” he adds.
As Martin explains, this stream of data creates a unique opportunity for publishers. By combing through tens of thousands of player situations, publishers can find truly unique cases that showcase the limits of what is possible in a given title.
“You can find if there was a high-damage output, or a unique use of special abilities. You can find all this by digging in the data,” Martin says.
“Esports is different and by definition digital. Creating informing and entertaining content for linear television is where we started five years ago. Combining the traditional and digital world with our extensive experience is what makes it so extraordinary and exciting for us,” explains Stefan Zant, Managing Director of German publishing giant Seven. One’s sports and Esports units.
The power of personalization, and learning
Availability of data has offered another opportunity of publishers – creating personalized content for players that allows them to benchmark their performance.
“There’s a lot of media just doing traditional beat journalism with Esports data,” explains Sabine Hemmi, CEO of Elo.io, which runs such major Esports sites as Dotabuff, Valorbuff or Speedrun. “[Traditional] content is a loss-leader for us. We view it as something we do for the community. We really make money on dynamically generating statistical value for consumers.”
“Personalization gives a powerful incentive to be logged in, have an account, and see how what’s happening relates to you”, Sabina continues. Thanks to personalization, users can compare their performance against top players.
Elo.io offers subscribers a Software-as-a-Service or SaaS solution that allows them to review their performance, ranking themselves vs. peers and gathering logs and insights that help improve their gameplay. It has also proven to be hugely popular.
“For example, 50% of users on Dotabuff are logged in”, explains Sabina (vs. typical industry figures of 5 to 15%, depending on paywall type). “They want to access their personalized stats”
This trend is likely to persist if you consider the evolution of the industry. A big part of the story, according to Martin, is based on how the audiences themselves are changing.
Several years ago Esports was still thought of as something for teens and young adults. Nowadays the audience is “growing up”. Over a third of Esports viewers are above the age of 35, according to the latest Hootsuite/ WeAreSocial report.
“First people played as amateurs,” explains Martin from Bayes, adding that then they “became more engaged and started looking for opportunities to improve”– their performance. “It’s natural to become more competitive.”
This rise in more dedicated fans and players, too, is an opportunity for publishers. According to Sabina, a growing number of other media are offering coaching and tutorials (although for now Elo is focused on building up its SaaS-focused model).
But with close to a quarter-billion of Esports enthusiasts – defined as people who watch at least once a month but often more – a growing number of publishers are looking at these products. Especially when they can bundle them within a range that goes from general content all the way to tailored trainings.
“With esports.com, we have a USP, because we offer intensive coverage of esports and also open the gateway to more gaming through tutorials or game presentations. Through broad coverage, we reach not only Esports fans, but also completely new target groups,” Stefan from esports.com explains.
This article was created in partnership with Bayes Esports, a leading Esports data provider. It’s part of the series on how esports is opening new opportunities for publishers and how they can seize them.
This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission. The Fix is a solutions-oriented publication focusing on the European media scene. Subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.