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Volume 26 No. 205
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SBJ Unpacks: Esports Go Mainstream During Pandemic

Esports have, at least temporarily, gone mainstream. Within the past two months, Snoop Dogg competed with Ravens WR Marquise Brown in a Madden celebrity tournament, NASCAR drivers zoomed through virtual recreations of famous tracks and tennis stars, including the Williams sisters, came together with celebrities to compete in a Mario Tennis Aces tournament. On the most recent episode of “SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead,” our Bill King talks with EA Senior VP & GM, Competitive Gaming Division Todd Sitrin about the mainstream window that esports has opened for sports video game publishers during the pandemic.

On the benefits of getting athletes and celebrities involved in esports:
Sitrin: When I think about the last few months, I would describe it as a tectonic shift in the esports landscape. The shift that’s been made is about accelerating into the mainstream, and one of those factors has definitely been the use of people who are famous for something other than playing video games. Up to this point, the esports industry has been about trying to get viewers to have an emotional connection to people who are famous for playing video games. That is a tougher thing to do than to utilize somebody who is already famous, and that’s where we’ve gone because celebrities are also at home. … It’s made it that much easier for people who maybe have rejected esports or not been aware of esports to say, “I know that person. I want to see that."

On changes to event presentation and broadcasting:
Sitrin: Prior to where we are now, we had a focus on utilizing the model that had been created by traditional sports broadcasts. You have a play-by-play person. You have a color analyst. You have sideline reporters. You kind of present it in that sort of way. Where we have moved to, and we were moving this way prior to COVID, but it has very much accelerated, is moving towards entertainment. That’s a little bit different, so we’re changing the tonality of our broadcast. We’re thinking about an audience of sports fans that are not video game players. How do you speak to them? What do you bring to them? In the past we would have done a deep dive analysis of play calling and why that was successful because we had an eye on video game players, but we’ve now really shifted to more of an entertainment presentation, which puts a focus on “Let’s just assume that the people are watching are sports fans who have never played a video game in their life."

On the value of being involved in the esports landscape:
Sitrin: It’s adding marketing value to the company to acquire new players to our games, get them engaged more in our games and generate revenue from that. Absolutely we’ve seen that over the last four years. This is a great way of getting people to embrace our games, but it’s more than that for what we’re trying to accomplish. When we set up the division, we said we believe that this can have revenue that is outside the game. Revenue through sponsorship. Revenue through media rights. Revenue through licensing fees. These are all the revenue streams that traditional sports see. When we think of our business, we think of it through both of those lenses.