Cyber athletes see it coming

Nothing on TV tonight? Watch Twitch instead like millions of others
Nothing on TV tonight? Watch Twitch instead like millions of others

There’s a new shake up happening in the sports industry at the moment, and in one of the main organiser’s words, traditional sports “Can’t see if coming”.

Last week BBC radio produced a great programme called “The Rise of the Cyber Athletes” – it’s one of those radio programmes where they place a camera in the studio which kind of converts it into a standard TV programme…

The audience for watching cyber athletes compete in international electronic games tournaments is growing very quickly. And that audience is bringing considerable revenues and investment.

Cyber athletes have sports nutritionists, sports psychologists, training camps, rigorous training regimes – often up to 16 hours a day, and attract large audiences to live events.

Tournaments take place in traditional stadia such as Wembley Stadium, or US Ice Hockey venues, and can pull in live crowds of 8-50,000. On top of that, a million viewers will watch the competitions live online. Weekend tournament can attract over 7 million viewers.

The most well-known live game streaming websites is Twitch, which was bought by Amazon last summer for $970 million. Twitch’s average view time for a video is 109 minutes. This is double the length of other video websites’ view times, and starts encroaching on traditional TV channel view times.

Twitch has high quality videos. Webcams stream the player and what they are saying to other players, and video overlays show the money they’ve earned and key subscribers.

Like traditional sports, there are team uniforms, sponsorship packages and endorsements, where players can earn £200,000 a year.

Unlike other sports, cyber athletes can earn so much from just Twitch that they retire from playing the sport competitively. It’s like paying to watch a golfer on a driving range, who has retired at the peak of their game.

To put the size of the sport into perspective, it already has a global audience the same magnitude as ice hockey and tennis. A major difference is that this global audience is a real size not an estimated size by Nielsen.

At the moment the professional players and organisers have no interest in TV coverage. It’s easy to say that young people don’t watch TV – but these spectators really don’t. They watch Twitch for a couple of hours a day instead.

One of the most astounding comments during the programme was when a young journalist flippantly started a description “The first time I came to a cyber-sport tournament I’d never been to a live stadium event before…”

I think the organiser is right when he said “Traditional sports can’t see it coming.”

The iPlayer video is only available until mid-February: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b050ssz2/the-rise-of-the-cyber-athletes

Update (19 February 2015):

Vue cinemas have joined forces with Gfinity, a company which promotes e-Sports in the UK. On 17 February they announced that the Vue cinema in Fulham Broadway, London will be converted into a gaming arena

The press announcement, of a wider partnership between Gfinity and Vue, sounds like other cinemas may also be converted as gaming arenas.

Vue are in a challenging industry as their most recent financial report describes (revenue and profits are down YOY, 9.9% and 18.1% respectively) and e-Sports appears to be a great investment opportunity at this time.

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