Keys to esports growth: player development, fan education
Over lunch at the Lagardère Sports esports Rising conference earlier this month, we asked attendees to consider a broad question: What is the biggest business solution esports needs?
Each table discussed the question among themselves and then forwarded the top answers to us. We received 37 ideas. Half of them fell into two buckets with a lot of overlap: 1) Player development, as both professionals and personalities, and 2) Content to better educate and entertain new fans.
This was a reminder that esports still has one foot in the garage, despite the surge of investment dollars now being deployed.
The most visible way in which esports lags? At a time when individual stars have never been more powerful or important to the sustained popularity of sports properties, esports is still mostly contested by players unknown outside of core fan bases. Some of the suggestions we received address this: “Media/PR training for esports athletes,” “highlight players more, a Players’ Tribune for esports” and “some sort of athlete union/talent union to help streamline and monetize opportunities and represent legally.”
The unionization part seems to be coming along, albeit slowly. The star-making, if you will, is further behind, agreed Ryan Fairchild, a lawyer who represents players.
“You want some heels, you want some heroes, you want that kind of thing pro wrestling has — the players can be completely real, but you can put some personality on top of it all,” Fairchild said. “But I don’t think the players’ personality is getting out there as much as it could, except in a few rare instances.”
The other bucket of responses suggests that people outside the business are still confused by esports basics. Those answers included “bridging the gap between gamers, the industry and the rest of the world,” “new media opportunities to educate and inform” and “centralize information: calendars, tournaments, leagues, teams.”
Peter Levin, an Immortals director and president of Lionsgate interactive ventures, thinks the transition from niche to mass appeal is well underway. “What we’re constantly looking for is that one big act, that one huge over-indexing,” Levin said. “But what could be healthier, with the current state of consumption habits, is that it’s going to be the aggregation of a lot of moments.”
That suggests it’s not just up to the publishers, or the teams, or even media partners like Twitch and Turner Sports. It’s an opportunity for anyone with a good idea for how to really grab the mainstream’s attention.
Ben Fischer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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