Figure 1: Credit NY Times
While attending IEG2015, the sponsorship industry’s annual trek to mecca, amidst the plethora of inspiring presentations from such thought leaders and trend-setters such Target, adidas, and Heineken, I came across one young college athlete that personified the seismic shift in the way we need to be thinking about the sports and live events of the future.
His name is Blake Soberania (firstname.lastname@example.org / twitter: @lots_of_bs) and he is part of Robert Morris University’s e-sports Eagles, and one of the five recipients of the world’s first academic scholarships for e-sports. Take a moment to think about that.
That’s right. E-sports, what we Boomers and Gen-Y & X’ers used to call, (typically in a condescending tone) video games. Universities across the country have e-sports teams that compete in regional and national leagues, host championships, follow official rule-books, and have announcers, sponsors, coaches, fans, and team jerseys… just like their school basketball and soccer teams. Now, add to that list, scholarships and recruiting.
The RMU Eagles are undefeated in the North American Collegiate Championships (24-0). The game of choice is “League of Legends” and the team is under the authority of the university’s athletic director. They have been featured in NY-Times, The Chicago Tribune, and NPR. But what sets them apart from the school’s other student athletes is the popularity of their sport. E-sports / Gaming is a world-wide phenomenon that most of us simply overlook. Not anymore. While speaking with Blake, he learned he and his teammates were about to be interviewed for a feature in Time Magazine. When was the last time you recall a typical college student athlete receiving call from Time Magazine?
According to Newzoo, there are an estimated 2.2 billion traditional sports fans (combined) worldwide while the gaming community reels in 1.7 billion fans annually with an estimated increase to 2.1 billion by 2017. That means gaming has nearly as many fans worldwide as all traditional sports, combined.
Traditional sports typically generate 57 percent of revenue from sponsorships and media selling rights and e-sports is anticipated to match that in just a few short years thanks to the growing interest in sponsorship.
Big name brands like Coca-Cola, Intel, Nissan, and Red Bull are the pioneer sponsors of this global gaming epidemic. By providing multimillion dollar sponsorships to the world’s top players, Coca-Cola is attracting a large, passionate online following. Coke Zero also recently partnered with Riot Games to create a series for amateur League of Legend gamers. “We have worked very closely and collaboratively with Riot Games to create a league that delivers true value to the fans and players of the sport, and that begins to build an infrastructure for e-sports that mirrors that of the more traditional sports,” said Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s global head of gaming.
And for some perspective, the 2013 League of Legends Challenge World Championships had over 32 million broadcast viewers, and sold out the 18,000 seat Staples Center in minutes. For 2014, held last fall in South Korea, met or exceeded those figures with even deeper engagement among fans.
Not to be missed, the top 10 You-Tube channels are all centered on gaming. to wit, the number one You-Tube celebrity isn’t Beyonce’, Beckham , or Swift it is an unassuming young man named Pewdiepie (https://www.youtube.com/user/PewDiePie) who talks, laughs and comments while playing the latest game releases – with over 35 million subscribers and over 8 billion (yes billion) video views! http://socialblade.com/youtube/user/pewdiepie
With monumental audiences, professional leagues, increased organizational support, multimillion dollar sponsorships, and now university scholarships and recruiting, one question remains – how long before the NCAA needs to step in?