For all of the coverage in the last year or so, eSports are still largely virgin territory, says Chester King, CEO of the International eGames Group, the commercial and sponsorship arm of the International eGames Committee (IEGC).
Speaking at Cannes Lions, King notes that in the UK, eSports are still categorised as within the remit of the Ministry of Culture, rather than the Ministry of Sport; it is these fundamental misunderstandings, he says, which are holding this area back. King is joined by Chris Lederer, Principal at PwC’s Strategy&, in a panel chaired by Jeremy Katz, Editor of Ogilvydo,
While to many, the term “gamer” still evokes the image of teenage boys in basements, the truth is that gaming is a broad church indeed, and the players are largely more affluent and sophisticated than you might expect. And even toxic movements like GamerGate haven’t been able to exclude female players, who are just as passionate and as prevalent as the men
“The brilliant thing about eSports is that it’s gender neutral,” says King. “We’d love to have gender balanced teams and pro gamers.” King and the IEGC are determined to end harassment in gaming, working with The Royal Foundation to include eSports in its anti-cyberbullying agenda.
Ultimately, the legitimisation of eSports hinges on the introduction of governing bodies. Right now, this space is controlled almost entirely by publishers, who operate as de facto federations for their specific titles. “On the data side, publishers know everything,” says King. “They know who the best gamers are in each country.”
And the platforms themselves have plenty of room to grow too, says King, citing frontrunner Twitch as a prime example. “Twitch is quite flat when it comes to personalisation,” he says. What he’d love to see is spectators having the ability to follow specific players’ screens, they way that F1 viewers can follow certain drivers on TV.
That eSports represent an exciting new marketplace will be old news to many, but so far brands have been slow off the mark to partner with players and publishers. In order for brands to get involved, there needs to be clear regulation, says King. Although, there are already some corporates getting in on the action, with telcos such as Verizon and AT&T sponsoring teams. “The hope is that sponsorship will drive enough exposure, excitement and activity that other forms of marketing will follow,” says Lederer.
The reticence of many companies might also stem from concerns over granting substantial prize money to a very young individual, and all of the potential brand disasters that could lead to. But the way King sees it, eSports are no different from the athletic industry; it’s about national pride more than anything else.
Which begs the question; is it possible for an eSports event to unite a country the way that the Olympics can? As an entirely online medium, gaming isn’t constrained by physical geography, or even language. Maybe fans will rally behind local heroes, or perhaps they’ll choose to cheer on their favourite players from elsewhere in the world instead.