Apr 30

Has North American/European E-sports Reached an Inflection Point?

Has North American/European e-sports reached an inflection point? Based on some of the numbers coming out of online viewing for DreamHack, I’d argue yes.

E-sports has always been a polarizing curiosity. To detractors, it’s another failed attempt for turbo nerds to legitimize their hours of playtime. These detractors support their claims by pointing to tiny North American tournament payouts and sponsorship levels, as well as poor on-site attendance at events such as MLG (Major League Gaming). Supporters, meanwhile, point to massive popularity for the games involved leading to — they hope — a United States version of South Korea, where gamers achieve six-figure pay and levels of celebrity saved for U.S. stars like Derrick Rose and Tony Stewart.

Well, now supporters can point to astonishing online audience metrics. The April 21-22 Dreamhack event, held in Stockholm, Sweden, received 1,076,914 unique views. Each viewer spent 47 minutes watching.

Compared to Nielsen ratings for major television shows, the viewership is low. “Glee” attracts 7-8.5 million viewers; “Bones” about 7-9 million. That said, compared with the advertising engine behind major network television, Dreamhack’s (and MLG’s, for that matter) budget is miniscule. Getting by on sponsorships alone, Dreamhack essentially managed to generate a 0.4 Nielsen Rating: 500,000 daily viewers of an hour-long show. That’s just about equivalent to half of the low end of Tosh.0 ratings on Comedy Central, and at-or-above syndicated network television reruns like Friends, Seinfeld, Bones, NCIS, Law & Order, etc.

Of course, the most important point: who is more attractive to advertisers, the syndicated cable television viewer, or the online viewer? I don’t know the answer, and I’m not certain anyone does. I’ve read a lot of hypotheses. I’ve read a hell of a lot of words about how advertisers “intend to spend more on online video.” But if someone can point me to a study done that states, with certainty, that one demographic is better than the other … I’m all ears.

That said, whether or not you support e-sports, now you have to face one undeniable truth: there’s a new and legitimate way to reach the extremely important 18-35 tech-savvy demographic. We already know that major tech brands are on-board (AMD, Steelseries, Creative Labs, Razr, etc.). Certain consumer beverage (Dr. Pepper) and product (BIC) manufacturers are getting on board.

How long before we see: “Dallas Major League Gaming Championships, sponsored by Dodge, State Farm, and McDonalds?”

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