eSports: a form of competition using video games also known as electronic sports, esports, e-sports or competitive/professional [video] gaming.
Working in motorsport, the trend of looking at how eSports can be incorporated into a Championship’s offering has continued to grow. Formula E tried to get in early with its regular eRaces at each race event and their Road to Vegas (fans v drivers competing for $1m prize fund at the Consumer Electronic Show); F1 has a programme now into its second year that even had a live “Draft” and have partnered with eSports Gfinity to deliver their events; and the promoter behind the World Endurance Championship (e.g. 24 Hours of Le Mans) has joined with Motorsport.com to launch LE MANS ESPORTS SERIES.
This is positive in respect of being proactive and trying to engage a wider demographic, but having recently attended my first “real” live eSports event it got me thinking: do motorsport eSports programmes have a real chance of success? And by success I mean enlarging the audience and attracting a younger demographic.
Last month saw the Final of Face It CS:GO. Hosted at London’s Wembley Arena, the event, which is scheduled over three days (Friday to Sunday), was completely sold out; legions of fans were in attendance to watch teams of gamers competing at Counter-Strike.
The first thing that struck me when I walked in on the Friday afternoon was the atmosphere – it was full – do people not work? - and the professionalism around the set-up, backdrop, and amount of data being provided to fans in the arena from multiple big screens. Big brands paid big money for visibility and I can see why.
The event was full. The concourses were empty (until the half-time interval). Fans were glued to their seats and the screens, deciding if they were partial to Team Liquid, NaVi, Astralis or whichever team was playing for the $1m prize fund. The arena was full of teenagers – the dream demographic for the motorsports series mentioned earlier. I must have sat in my seat for an hour transfixed to the screens, listening to the commentators, trying to interpret what was going on, and once my eSports knowledge was at the requisite level, I didn’t even consider going to the concourse to refill my drink! Sky Sports, Twitch and other platforms broadcast the event live.
‘eSports are rising fast. Newzoo estimates that by 2021 eSports will have over 300million fans, with total revenues exceeding $1.6 billion.’
In my opinion, this is the key to why Wembley Arena was full and why eSports and such events have gathered such traction and notoriety. A motorsport eSports event follows the format of the Championship e.g. F1, FE race. The Counter-Strike event was “rounds”, and lots of them, with the winner having to win 16. A round lasted less than 2 minutes, and there was a 25 seconds break, where the screens would generally show a replay or the faces of the gamers in each of the teams. Compelling bite-sized content. Exactly the formula that motorsport series have adopted for their social media output, including when posting highlights from races. Maybe motorsports eSports events need to tailor their offering and stray away from the traditional format?
To quote Garry Cook, Executive Chairman of Gfinity who spoke at the Motorsport Leaders Business Forum in London last week. Whilst he applauded motorsport for their work in eSports, he said “Motorsports needs eSports more than eSports needs motorsports!”
And I suspect the commercial motorsports rights holders operating eSports events tend to agree. They want to be involved and will inevitably adapt.