By 2050 the biggest game in the world will be a virtual one, according to some of the esports industry’s pioneers, who argue that the global appeal of video games trumps all the traditional sports except perhaps ‘the beautiful game’.

However, for brands looking to capitalise on the growth, authenticity and the understanding of the gaming community is key.

Speaking at The Esports Conference in Sydney yesterday, the founder of Electronic Sports and Gaming (ESG) Law, a firm which represents seven of the top 12 Overwatch teams, argued that research showed the growth and global appeal of esports meant it was on track to rival football as the most popular sport within three decades.

“I don’t know what the most popular (video) game is in 2050, but whatever it is it is as ubiquitous globally as soccer. That is the global ceiling for [esports],” an ESG spokesperson said.

The potential global appeal is well demonstrated by professional esports team, London Spitfire. The team represents its namesake but is made up of Korean players who compete full-time in California.

“Esports is truly global in that regard,” the spokesperson said.

But Australia is currently at least six years behind South Korea — the leading esports nation — according to the spokesperson. In South Korea esports is completely professional and video games are “the premiere sporting entertainment product”.

However, the ESG spokesperson argued the lessons from South Korea and other more esports advanced nations “trickle down” to other nations and eventually the global competition will plateau.

That means there is a significant investment opportunity for individuals and organisations around the world now, the spokesperson said. They argued the favourable conditions are akin to investing in the internet in the 1990s, notwithstanding the similar risks that culminated in the Dotcom bubble burst.

As Which-50 has reported, several brands and individual investors are indeed moving into esports. According to the spokesperson that has created a “staggering” amount of new capital. However, much of it is going to waste.

“Developing a deep understanding of what you’re investing in is critical. I’ve seen [people] come to esports because they’ve read a New York Times piece, got fired up about it, and deployed capital a few months later… Those people are far more likely to fail.”

Community is king

According to the community managers in the industry, brands and individual investors looking to move into esports must understand the diverse and passionate gaming audiences. That requires a recognition of the “micro communities” each game and esports team creates, according to Kelsey Gamble, community manager at video game publisher Bethesda.

“It’s something that we are very proud of at Bethesda, the fact that every single community for the titles that we have are so passionate,” Gamble said.

Kelsey and other community managers suggested that much of their role was to simply enable the interactions and content creation of the highly active community, rather than to provide content.

Much of the interaction occurs on the Twitch streaming platform — which attracts 2.6 million unique Australian viewers per month, up from 700,000 two years ago, according to a company spokesperson.

Brands have taken notice and are increasingly partnering with Twitch streamers and content creators, looking to connect with a highly engaged gaming audience. And despite concerns around authenticity, or lack there of, from brands entering gaming, the community isn’t averse to brands, according to the Twitch spokesperson.

“The community and the [gaming] scene does not hate brands. That’s something that I think can be a misconception,” the spokesperson said.

“What they hate is brands coming along and saying ‘you’re meeting us at our level’. No, this is a very different space and you haven’t even tried to meet us at our level. So it’s really about how can you meet halfway — how can you do things that integrate with what [gamers] have been doing for the last five, 10 years.”

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