One of the most exciting parts of working in the gaming industry is how quickly things can change. In recent years, most games have shifted to becoming always-on live services that change regularly with new content and features keeping players engaged long after a game has launched. Esports and live streaming of gaming overall have also become much more mainstream.
WHAT IS ESPORTS AND HOW IS IT TRANSFORMING GAMING?
Esports is competitive gaming where highly-skilled gamers play in organized, multiplayer matches. These rapidly growing events range from small tournaments among friends or communities, such as the fireside gatherings our fans run themselves for our game Hearthstone, to the highest level of competition watched by fans globally, both online and in-person. The Grand Finals for the Overwatch League took place in a sold-out Barclays Center in Brooklyn this summer and was broadcast on ESPN.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS BLIZZARD ADAPTED TO THIS?
Blizzard has been involved in esports for a long time, helping establish some of the first highly organized tournaments in the early 2000s with our game StarCraft. At Blizzard we now have staff devoted full time to managing a wide range of esports programs across our different games, from amateur level to collegiate to professional. We’re passionate about esports and our goal is to continue building best-in-class programs and teams. One recent example was the debut of the Overwatch League earlier this year, which set a new precedent for how a premier esports league could be run and proved that fans would be interested in a new model with location-based teams, inspired by the way professional sports leagues are organized.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE UNEXPECTED CHALLENGES TO HAVE EMERGED WITH ESPORTS?
Esports truly is global in appeal, which presents a number of challenges when trying to create programs that can simultaneously meet the needs and desires of all the continents across the world. Scheduling and travel are unique challenges that sports leagues who operate or appeal to only one continent do not face. Our audience also expects different things from an esports broadcast vs. traditional sports broadcast or livestreams of gaming personalities, and this continues to change. We’re often doing some things for the very first time in esports, so it’s difficult to know if it will work or not until we try it.
HAS ESPORTS CHANGED YOUR CONSUMER BASE AND, IF SO, HOW HAS THIS IMPACTED YOUR APPROACH TO MARKETING?
It’s starting to change the consumer base as we now have different types of fans we need to think about more often. We have some people who play our games and follow our esports programs, and others that only do one of those things. Previously, we could focus on our active, lapsed, and potential new players. Now we also have active, lapsed, and potential new viewers in the mix, and we need to think about marketing and developing content for them differently.
HOW DO YOU SEE ESPORTS EVOLVING IN THE FUTURE?
Esports is here to stay. The popularity of different games within esports will continue to shift and everyone involved in esports will continue to learn new ways to improve their programs, events and broadcasts. Every week esports seems to grow in popularity, attracting new investors and consumers. I fully expect this trend to carry on for quite some time, with new major players and partners entering and continually changing the esports landscape.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR BRANDS FACING TRANSFORMATION ON HOW TO ADAPT TO EVOLVING CONSUMER NEEDS?
Don’t just hope a new change will pass. Take the changes seriously and do your research on evolving trends in your industry with consumers and experts. Use that information to make informed decisions on how your brands could or should change to adapt to the transformation. The answer may be “don’t change the game plan”, but you should at least do some research to make that informed decision now, or you may look back in just a couple of years and be too late to the party.