eSports a Digital frontier, but yet to breach $1Billion mark

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    League of Legends Championship Series in Detroit - Image by League of Legends Championship Series @LCSofficial (Twitter)

    When compared to Traditional sports viewership and delivering, the broadcasting and viewership of live action and commentary for eSports still remains a niche activity, despite being a major force in reckoning for the past couple of years now.

    Games like Overwatch League and North American League of Legends Championship series have strong demand for franchise teams, even with franchise fees ranging from $10 million to $30 million per team and in some cases, even higher. Global eSports revenue was around $800 million in 2017, while almost reaching $950 million in 2018.

    The upside is the fact that global brands like Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and State Farm are signing up as sponsors for professional eSports leagues. Digital Advertising and subscription revenue sharing increased from $130+ million to $165+ million in 2018, while Merchandise, tickets, game publisher fees and other revenues rose from $150+ million in 2017 to $170+ million in 2018.

    Viewership remains an issue with Chinese viewership being the majority worldwide when it comes to the largest eSports event, which at times draws between 100 million to 200 million peak viewing audiences online. For example, the 2018 League of Legends World Championship had around 2 million peak viewership (excluding Chinese), whereas the Chinese peak viewership alone reached more than 200 million for the same event. The global was around the same mark for the 2017 World Championship, when Chinese peak viewership reached 100 million.

    Game developers/publishers such as Activision Blizzard (Overwatch League), Epic Games (Fortnite), Tencent Technology/Riot Games (League of Legends) and Valve Corp (CS:GO and Dota2) are the major draws in the eSports sector, and also sponsor/organize league and the major events across the globe.

    Amazon’s Twitch subsidiary is the primary eSports streaming service choice for most countries except China, and Alphabet’s YouTube is also a popular choice. Both have a significant lead over other platforms which offer active streaming service,one Facebook and Microsoft. Streamlabs estimates that Twitch recorded close to 2700 million hours of global eSports hours in Q1 FY2019, while YouTube Live accounted for around 650 million hours. Total hours streamed by platform also saw Twitch being way ahead with 100+ hours, compared to YouTube Live’s 13.

    The popularity of eSports has seen linear TV networks also starting to provide coverage of eSports events, with Blizzard’s TV deal with Disney enabling Overwatch event broadcast on ABC/ESPN. TBS has televised various events in both 2018 and 2019. Top telecasts have so far recorded viewership in the range between 500K to 900K.

    Linear Telecast of CS:GO premier 2018 S1mply the Best on TBS recorded audience figures of around 875K, while CS:GO 2019 Grand Finals got around 718K viewership. 2019 Overwatch League Stage 1 Finals on ABC got around 615K viewership, an increase from the 2018 Overwatch League Grand Finals, which recorded around 525K viewership.

    The total global revenue despite all the increase in numbers has not broken the $1 billion mark yet, but the numbers could finally breach the magical figure at the end of 2019 with more consumption of digital content and linear content for eSports events.

    Data sources include escharts.com, Industry data, company data, filings & Streamlabs.com

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