This week the ‘eSports IQ by Alex Fletcher‘ features the following content: Picturing eSports Engagement; Can sports and eSports play nice?

Can sports and eSports play nice?

Online streaming platform Hitbox and professional soccer club VfL Wolfsburg are teaming together to provide exclusive, weekly FIFA 16 eSports content. The press release highlights obvious benefits and objectives of the partnership, but the move also hints at the potential for integration of over-the-top (OTT) content, e.g. livestreaming, and sports properties in the world of eSports. Yet where non-endemic brands have begun to recognize the potential of eSports, as a marketing platform, similar momentum has yet to take hold in the traditional sports world. Nonetheless, VfL Wolfsburg, with its signing of two FIFA 16 players and partnership with Hitbox, finds itself at the forefront of an intriguing intersection of digital and physical competition; one that alludes to the inherent potential of similar relationships.

The prominent question is how does the sports world benefit from getting involved in competitive video gaming? After all, it’s one thing for a soccer club to sign two players, who compete in a video game simulation of the exact same sport, and another to achieve meaningful return-on-investment (ROI). In the case of VfL Wolfsburg, the partnership with Hitbox will actually create an entirely innovative variety of branded digital content for the club. Given that the traditional sports industry has long struggled to fully embrace digital media, due to the necessity of tip-toeing around TV rights and other media licensing deals. And while live sports might be streamed liberally on OTT networks sooner rather than later, eSports is a ready made entry point into the fast growing segment of digital entertainment that exists outside the reach of linear distribution channels. This notion of eSports, a domain full of highly engaged communities of content consumers, as a medium through which properties, like VfL Wolfsburg, can build additional brand equity, holds significant potential and deserves further investigation.

With prognostications about eSports soon “overtaking” the popularity of various traditional sports being tossed around, it’s easy to assume that the former should be classed solely as a threat to the latter. However, the reality is that eSports represent threat and opportunity within the world of traditional sports. Yes, competitive video games are emerging as a form of sport for a new generation of audiences. However, this is not a binary categorization. Notably, there is abundant room for traditional sports to innovate around eSports as a brand building and engagement platform. The Hitbox and VfL Wolfsburg partnership provides a valid use case for how traditional sports properties can activate around this paradigm. More importantly, it is a look into a future where the line of demarcation between digital and traditional sport is far less perceptible.

Picturing eSports Engagement

As live streaming builds momentum as a broadcast medium; the need for reliable, quantitative insights has emerged. Up to this point, the best way to understand what actually happens during a stream has been to watch it. Enter StreamHatchet, an analytics tool for Twitch, which gathers useful information about stream sessions. Complete with real-time stats, charting, and historical support, StreamHatchet provides a clearer picture of the, often opaque, notion of viewer engagement generated by Twitch streams. For example, the tool captured live stats for the recent North American League Championship Series (NA LCS) final featuring Counter Logic Gaming vs. Team SoloMid – see image below.

Picturing eSports Engagement

While the above doesn’t represent an in-depth level of detail (demographics, viewing devices, location of viewers, etc.), it tells a compelling story. Notably, the data illustrates some of the key selling points for the livestreaming experience, in a way that those unfamiliar with the domain can understand. Essentially, these numbers embody key touchpoints for connecting to audiences of streamed content. And underscore the reality that livestreaming is NOT just television online. Streams don’t so much broadcast content as much as they entice audiences to become a part of it. They are digital windows into the passion, fandom and raw humanity of viewing communities. Livestreaming turns the passive consumption experience on its head and creates entirely new avenues for interaction. Advertisers and marketers seeking to embrace the eSports opportunity must accept this paradigm, with no qualms.

Likewise, the data demonstrates that direct comparison of viewership for livestreamed eSports events and linear broadcasts of traditional sports ignores too many key differences. Where sports broadcasts on TV cultivate viewership, livestreamed eSports events, on platforms like Twitch, breed engagement. For instance, the number of chat messages and emoticons, throughout the NA LCS final, must not be mistaken for juvenile forms of communication; instead it is quantitative evidence of the buzz behind major eSports events. Essentially, audiences are transformed into content co-creators within the stream itself, where interaction drives more interaction. StreamHatchet has done a commendable job of creating an analytics tool that helps tells this story. The question is are brands paying attention?

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About ‘eSports IQ’

The ‘eSports IQ’ is compiled by Alex Fletcher, the founder and president of Entiva Group, LLC, and features insights on the latest emerging trends in eSports. By curating invaluable content from a wide range of information sources you get the leading edge in the business of eSports.

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Image source:, Photographer: Helena Kristiannson