Major League Gaming CEO Sundance DiGiovanni summed up the live streaming and eSports panel at the 2013 Game Marketing Summit like this: “In five years, what we’ve been talking about it is going to hit a sweet spot with an audience of hundreds of millions. There’s an unparalleled growth curve here.”
DiGiovanni joined moderator Mike Snider of USA Today and panelists Dennis Fong (Raptr), Marcus Graham (Twitch), Joshua Milligan (Ubisoft), and Ryan Wyatt (Machinima) to discuss live streaming and eSports — both of which are already huge today, never mind five years from now. Twitch’s monthly unique visitors have hit 30+ million; DiGiovanni says some MLG events are second only to the BCS in market share for the 18-34 year-old demographic; and according to Wyatt, “Some [streamers] make a million dollars a year [in ad revenue share]. We had one guy who streams Minecraft who was working at McDonalds a year ago. He just bought a house and two cars.”
But first, the group began by discussing how we got to this point — how eSports’ commercial break unfriendly format didn’t play well on traditional broadcast TV, but worked perfectly online, where an international audience could find it. Live streaming also expanded the way players and teams could interact with fans.
“What happens when there’s not a Super Bowl-level event going on in the realm of gaming — fans start following their favorite players,” said Twitch’s Graham, likening it to Michael Jordan inviting fans into his private practice facility in the off season. “There’s not only the tournament side of it, but facilitating a place the players can grow their fans, their teams, and as a professional brand.”
As the technology to support streaming came down in price and sites like Twitch and YouTube offered ways for popular streamers to turn their gameplay into cashflow, whole cottage industries popped up.
“One of the things that has changed a lot — the tools that are in the players’ hands make it very easy for players to create content,” said Fong. “Much like how YouTube has made it very easy to upload a video, services like Twitch make it very easy for people to live stream. And the value of these services is that it keeps players engaged with their games when they’re not playing.”
That’s something that publishers began to take notice of — some more quickly than others. “I think it’s a new way to market your game,” said Ubisoft’s Milligan, talking about eSports in particular. “You’re creating tournaments that lead into events…you’re creating a new aspect to your marketing. Assuming you have a game that is eSports ready — and that’s critical — and you’re ready to authentically go into the market and work with players in this space, you can get really high ROI because you’re getting tremendous activity that will keep people talking about your game long after it comes out.”
As a result, publishers and developers are working to make streaming even easier by supporting it in-game, and the next generation of consoles look to be integrating streaming on the platform level. And on the PC, Raptr’s partnered with Twitch to support streaming via its Desktop App. According to Graham, “The moment that you can broadcast from the game, you see an increase of people who might’ve not had the technical know how, but when they can go in and hit a button and be communicating with the world…I think that’s really one of the big steps as we move forward in the next few years.”
Fong pointed at an increase in new users to League of Legends when that game added a spectator mode feature. “It’s not always immediately intuitive that releasing these tools would help grow the community – but what we’ve seen consistently is that it actually brings a lot of new users to the game, because the word of mouth is so strong. There really is a lot of data to support that these things work.”
So what makes live streaming so compelling and powerful? Fong identified two factors: authenticity and amplification. “To me live streaming, why it’s so successful – you’re getting access to the same thing that person is seeing, and you can chat with them live. If you could watch a match through Roger Federer’s eyes, hear what he’s thinking, that would be pretty amazing,” said Fong. “And one of the universal truths…the guy that creates the content has motivation to spread it and share it with his friends. he wants to show off. Which is another integral part of this audience: they love to share and brag. That’s why this stuff is growing so quickly.”