In our latest Insight article Shachar Shamir, VP of Marketing for Pico – Get Personal takes a look at the esports landscape, the impact of lockdowns and where it is headed.

When COVID-19 first hit, the sports industry – much like the rest of the world – was shocked. Everything stopped all at once, matches and gatherings were put to a halt throughout the world. Fans were frustrated because not only were they staying home in a lockdown, but now they were without their favorite television programs, AKA sporting events.

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If you are an avid sports fan like myself, you definitely know what I’m talking about. That feeling of overall uncertainty as well as trying to understand what can be done for entertainment in place of those exciting, game-filled hours without any sports to watch, discuss, and tweet about. And it wasn’t only the fans feeling displaced- players were also looking for something to fill in that spare time that was once dedicated for practice, games, and fans. So they took to social media and participated in various social media challenges like juggling toilet paper, and playing online games on Twitch and other esports platforms. 

Let them Play Esports

When the pandemic initially started, many sports fans were looking for an alternative to the real thing. In looking, they found themselves playing or viewing online Esports games. This created some initial concern among traditional sports organizations as they were wary that the growth in Esports would lead to a generation of fans, (Gen Z) preferring console games over the real thing. Teams understood and understand that generationally, the attention spans of fans, especially the younger ones, are limited, and these fans are looking for something quick and instant. Which is very different from the traditional fan experience of sitting in a stadium and watching how ever many minutes it takes for a game to unfold.

 

And then came COVID and their biggest Esports nightmare became a reality. 

In the not so distant past, parents would take their kids to a stadium, and in doing so would support their favorite team, the stadium and its workers, see the gifted athletes in action and cheer them on as a family with tablets/smartphones/consoles in their pockets, cars, or at home. Today, with little to no fans in the stadium, families only have the option of staying home and catching a match on TV. And what they’ve noticed, as well as myself having two young daughters, is that children are often disconnected from the events happening on the big screen. They might know about them through other platforms, whether it’s a social one or esports one, but they aren’t as tuned into the live broadcasted matches as they used to be. We are even guilty of that too sometimes as parents. But with Gen Z not watching sports as actively with their family and in general, they can typically be found watching or playing an Esports match with their friends, virtual or actual. And they are preferring that action and that fan experience over the traditional fan experience.  

In essence, the second screen has become their first screen. And it’s crucial to meet fans where they are digitally to encourage and foster active engagement.

If you can’t beat them, join them!

Naturally, teams want to keep their fans committed, entertained, and engaged. They want them to be part of the experience- to come to the stadium (when possible), to watch the match on TV, as their first screen. It’s important for their brand, it’s important for their brand partners, and revenue, but now something in their overall state of mind needs to change. Teams now understand that they don’t need to fight the Esports trend and that even though they might have already lost that battle, they can still definitely win the fan fight. Because at the end of the day, sports fans are engaged by nature and if you meet your fans where they are digitally, you are bound to have their attention.

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The pandemic led many sports organizations, both professionally and at a collegiate level, to build out their own Esports teams/leagues. They find the best players and sign them on a contract to play for the club- just like they do with pro-sports athletes. Some teams are even running academic courses to teach and qualify players to become true official Esports players. They want their new generation of fans to follow along with their Esports teams and through that, encourage them to learn more about the “real”, physical team; its history and its players, and to be engaged with their team in a new way. Engagement is still engagement when it’s digital. A fan experience is still a fan experience when it’s digital. 

Esports brings a lot of opportunity for teams to increase their marketing reach and revenue. They can find new partners, new markets, and new innovative opportunities in this new niche market. Teams, especially the “smaller” and more unknown ones, need to jump on the Esports opportunity now. With the right digital strategy, they can grow and improve branding, their reach of a new audience, the engagement a younger crowd, and receive influence on a global level of fans who will follow along not only on their television sets, but also on their tablets, smartphones, and consoles – their second screens.

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