With elite sports around the world halted under lockdown, esports not only filled the gap but assumed a parity that won’t fade as competitions return to the field.
Sports teams and federations, broadcasters and athletes have endorsed esports during the pandemic not as an imitation of the real thing but as an integral part of its future.
By some measures esports audience sizes were comparable to traditional sports audiences even before COVID struck. The largest esports league, League of Legends, boasted higher viewership than MLB, the NBA, or the NHL. The global esports audience was already poised to attain $3 billion in revenues by 2022.
Since the pandemic, gaming as a spectator sport has gone through the roof. For example, leading live gaming platform Amazon-owned Twitch, saw audiences rise 31% in March.
Professional sports understand that esports is essential to increasing brand awareness, broadening their audience and providing new revenue streams. From February, many pivoted to digital simulations with motor racing quickest off the mark. Formula E’s 8 weeks long Race at Home Challenge was wildly popular with ex-F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne claiming the title. Formula 1 continues to host a series of virtual Grand Prix with esports and gaming solutions provider, Gfinity, overseeing the delivery of the tournament and broadcast production.
Esports viewers are predominantly young and therefore particularly valuable to broadcasters which have also sought to capitalise on demand. Virtual Grand Prix are broadcast live on ESPN; the world’s most famous thoroughbred horse race, the Grand National, was a virtual affair watched by almost 5 million free-to-air viewers in the UK; the National Basketball Association’s NBA 2K League has been airing on ESPN since May—the first linear broadcasts of this major league esports property.
In another sign of the blur between real and virtual world, the ePremier League Invitational Tournament featuring stars from the EPL’s twenty teams was broadcast on Sky Sports, Facebook and YouTube.
The EPL resumed on Sky Sports with a crowd soundtrack provided by EA SPORTS FIFA as further indication that the production values of actual and virtual live broadcasts are indistinguishable.
The leading esports and gaming publishers and developers are bringing their product to fans using Blackbird. Gfinity, for example, adopted Blackbird to frame-accurately clip, edit and distribute highlights from live streams for publishing to digital channels within seconds.
Riot Games, whose titles include League of Legends and VALORANT, has chosen Blackbird for remote fast turnaround video production.
U.S-based VENN have even taken this moment, as the world emerges from lockdown, to launch a streaming TV network aimed at pop culture and esports audiences. Its cloud-based remote production relies on Blackbird to frame-accurately edit, enrich and publish a wide variety of engaging video content ultra-fast.
Using Blackbird, marketing teams can also rapidly access vast gameplay archives for repurposing across social and web. Sponsor branding and adverts can be added, partners tagged and promotional messaging included to drive monetization.
Whatever the sport, regardless of the sportscaster, esports is a natural extension of commercial strategy. It’s in the game.
Blackbird is best-of-breed
Jon Hanford - Group CTO, Deltatre