Esports is a massive industry, and its growth shows no signs of slowing down. Just this year, esports surpassed $1 billion in revenue globally.
PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the growth of the esports industry will continue an upward trend, estimating around 19 percent growth annually. Some sources expect even larger growth. Most ambitiously, a report by Goldman Sachs estimates that by 2022, esports will have tripled its revenue, becoming a $3 billion industry. These sources look at the potential of esports and see exponential, rather than linear, growth.
So the forecast, according to a few companies, is very good, but nobody can look into the future and say with any accuracy how the value of esports will increase over time; a little over a decade ago, the idea that esports could be anything more than a hobby was inconceivable to most.
But esports viewership has definitely entered the mainstream, even competing with major sporting events. Streamers now appear on the covers of ESPN, while athletes debate the idea of eventually welcoming esports at the Olympics.
The tremendous success of esports thus far has been unexpected, and its future could go in any number of directions. The growth trends of esports seem very positive though.
Why Livestreaming Matters to Marketers
With all that in mind, marketers may ask themselves how they can harness this new market. Although major companies are making steps to move esports to linear television, esports is not primarily broadcast through it.
Currently, the main home for esports viewership is in livestreams.
For years, livestreamed competitions of League of Legends, DOTA 2, Rocket League, Call of Duty, and many others have allowed esports to reach younger and less traditional audiences, drawing in tens of millions of viewers from around the world. Were it not for the market offered by streaming platforms like Twitch, esports would not be nearly as successful as it currently is.
Streaming offers many advantages over linear TV and other forms of media. For one, streaming platforms allow creators to produce content on any budget, without needing to secure funding from major companies or broadcast networks. Also, the ease of content production means that viewers have more opportunities to watch esports coverage, across any number of devices and streaming platforms.
And unlike traditional television, streaming platforms offer viewers and creators the opportunity to communicate through chat and other dynamic visual elements.
What to Consider Before Working With A Streaming Platform
For those looking to partner with a streaming platform, there are a small handful of platforms to consider. The one you choose is ultimately up to your business strategy and target demographic, but when considering a platform, there are some qualities you should research.
One strong consideration for brands is a platform’s community size. Livestreaming platforms are defined by their communities, which are defined by their content creators. Larger, more established platforms generally not only have more content creators, these creators have larger spheres of influence, which translates to larger reach for your brand.
A bigger community might not mean a healthier community though. For a streaming platform to accommodate its creators, it needs to offer those creators plenty of ways to succeed, meaning better monetization tools.
While many people stream just as a hobby, people need to provide for themselves and their families. Monetization allows streamers to focus more on their content, and it makes it more likely that they will want to remain with the platform.
Livestreaming platforms need to ensure the growth of their own communities, but they also need ways for their creators to nurture and expand their own communities. For a creator to grow on a platform, they need to be able to build a relationship with their audience, which means that the engagement tools a platform offers its streamers (such as emotes, chat, and extensions) are also important. For streamers to nurture their communities, communication, in all its forms, is crucial.
Moving away from a platform’s ability to provide for its users though, there is no substitute for hard data. An effective brand strategy might prioritize platforms with better analytics. Whether a platform offers better measurement tools for brands, or whether a platform already provides data on its own users, being able to identify trends is crucial when forming business strategies.
With these considerations in mind, here is a brief look at some popular gaming streaming platforms, as well as what makes them unique.
When it comes to streaming gameplay, Twitch is king - at least in the US. Before Twitch, livestreaming was a difficult and expensive process for content creators, but Twitch made this process accessible, bringing in new users at breakneck speed.
Content on Twitch is almost exclusively live, and because it essentially pioneered gaming livestreams, it has amassed a strong community of influencers. Being a veteran platform, Twitch can also offer brands valuable data and analytics, which can help them form better insights and strategies.
Streamers and viewers are able to interact through Twitch extensions, and while streamers still earn some money from advertising, “bits” essentially offer viewers a way to tip and interact with their favorite streamers. Additionally, viewers can support their favorite streamers by subscribing to them, paying a small amount every month.
Extensions allow streamers new ways to interact with their audiences, even playing mini-games or loading interactive overlays.
From its inception, Youtube has focused primarily on video on-demand content, but live streams are also available to creators who pass a 100 subscriber threshold.
Youtube streamers can earn money from Google AdSense in addition to ad rolls. Like Twitch, Youtube offers a chat for its live streams, and viewers can donate an amount (between $1 and $500) to their favorite creators in this “Super Chat”. When they do this, their comment will be pinned for the streamer, giving their comment priority over the flood of other commentators.
Additionally, viewers who are Youtube Premium (formerly Youtube Red) members can make money for creators. If Youtube Premium members watch a creator’s content, the creator receives a small portion of what Youtube makes from Premium memberships.
One major downside of Youtube as a platform is that it has gotten so large, content is difficult to monitor. As a result, Youtube has an algorithm that does the legwork. When it fails to catch content, and marketers find their brands associated with controversial videos, Youtube revises its algorithm. This sometimes results in Youtube inaccurately demonetizing and even removing content, which leaves its creators discontent.
When it comes to streaming platforms, Caffeine may not be up to the level of Twitch or Youtube yet, but it’s certainly not an Indie project either.
Founded by two ex-Apple executives, Caffeine has been slowly building its user base It did secure a major investment from Fox though, and some streamers report liking its simplicity and low latency.
For streamers to support creators, they can purchase Caffeine Gold, which they can then use to interact with streamers through “digital items”.
Unfortunately, Caffeine does not offer brands any way to advertise, so this may just be a platform to watch out for in the future. However, partnerships may be on the table, considering Caffeine’s $100 million Fox deal and its partnerships with esports team Dignitas. It has also secured broadcast rights for FIFA 19, DreamHack, and League of Legends.
Microsoft’s streaming platform, Mixer, has also gained some favor among streamers.
Similar to Caffeine, Mixer markets itself on its low latency and interactivity.
Also similar to Caffeine, Mixer creators do not receive money from ad revenue. Instead, streamers receive payments for views in the form of “sparks” as well as from viewer-purchased “embers”. Embers allow viewers to send short messages to streamers, while sparks allow for more collaborative, team-based gameplay with other streamers and viewers.
Facebook has recently taken steps to promote its own streaming service in the form of its Gaming tab. Facebook’s streaming service is still relatively new too though, with Facebook Watch only launching globally last year.
While a handful of companies have come forward in recent years to compete with Twitch, and these companies should keep it on its toes, Twitch won’t likely be dethroned in its game stream viewership.
StreamElements compiled viewership data for Facebook, Twitch, Youtube, and Mixer. In Q2 of 2019, Twitch accounted for 72.2 percent of game stream viewership (in terms of hours watched). Youtube had a strong presence, but it still only had around a third of the viewership Twitch had accrued.
To try to compete with Twitch, other game streaming platforms will evolve, adding features in consideration of their viewers and streamers. New platforms should also emerge, with their own unique approaches to streaming.
All in all, the best marketing approach depends on your brand. Streaming platforms each offer unique experiences and different ways for audiences to engage with streamers.
What role your brand plays in the gaming space depends on which platform suits your needs, as well as how your brand adapts to the evolution of streaming technology and the changing cultural landscape. The past decade has shown that esports and gaming are becoming increasingly important parts of our culture, and that streaming is a priority for major companies. Those trends don’t appear to be declining.
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