Written on : 12/8/2020
For an activity (like playing video games) to turn into a publicly-observed competition (like esports), first there needs to be a demand to know who is best. Then, for the competition to grow a mainstream appeal and audiences to expand beyond the initial enthusiasts, it needs to have entertainment value. Esports is currently beginning the journey from step one to step two.
STEP ONE: The informative value – i.e. who is the best at this?
Interest in this information is key for any public passion or activity to become competitively organised and publicly observed. This question is typically first raised by those most involved in the activity itself; these are the pioneers.
In a competition’s early stages, the pioneers typically do not need to think too much about the public entertainment value of their activity – they are already entertained by taking part. The early audiences of any growing competition are thus formed from those who are (passionately) involved in the said activity.
Esports have done the first part right by growing an audience as a subsegment of gamers. In Q2 2020, 6% of consumers watch esports. This rises to 15% among console gamers and 11% among PC gamers. The growth of esports today is still largely driven by passionate gamers. While there is room for growth among passionate gamers, having enough partakers is not always sufficient for a proposition to blow up in terms of consumer culture.
More people ride a bicycle than play American football, but the media audience and commercial media value around the latter is much larger because it managed to grow beyond its initial partaker base and provide entertainment value beyond the competitive activity itself.
STEP TWO: The entertainment value – i.e. why is it fun to watch or experience?
While information value is what sparks a competitive movement, it is the entertainment value which helps competitions grow mainstream. While esports can and will continue to grow within gamers, it needs to attract the attention of more casual players and non-gamers.
To achieve this, esports needs to define its entertainment hook(s) – something the audience will keep coming back for, besides the games competition itself. For cinemas, this ended up being popcorn; for music, festivals; for baseball, its family atmosphere (for the most part), stadium food and singing ‘Take me out to the ball game’ in the 7th.
How can esports find its entertainment hook(s)? It is vital to pay attention to entertainment behaviours of esports audiences across entertainment, well beyond just gaming. Identifying and taking mutually shared entertainment behaviours and preferences of esports viewers and non-gamers will be key to open up the bridge to mainstream audiences.
Bringing non-gaming aspects from across entertainment into esports events, content and communities will also enable current esports advocates to spread the word more easily. That is because the “I don’t play games” argument currently ends the discussion. But, what if there was something worth watching or experiencing besides the joy of playing games itself?
This is perhaps the most important moment for esports so far, as it finds itself at a crossroads. If it succeeds to reach and entertain audiences beyond gamers, it has the potential to become the next basketball or American football in the coming decades. If not, it will end up more like cycling.