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Esports: Is This the Next Big Thing in Streaming Video?

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But does Apple TV allow for gameplay and egaming viewing? Sort of.

All Apple TV devices, if on the same network as a newer-model MacBook—including Air, Pro, and the newly designed one-USB MacBook—or an iPad or iPhone, can stream the contents of any of these devices to the larger screen to which the Apple TV is attached. As such, it’s a very popular remote display device for the small meeting room, classroom, or even the living room.

From a built-in gaming perspective, though, the Apple TV doesn’t measure up to gaming consoles. There are games that can be played using an iPad as the controller, with the action displayed on the Apple TV’s connected big screen—“Wingman Metal” and “Ducati Challenge HD” are two examples—but the Apple TV lacks serious gaming on its own, in no small part due to the fact that the Apple TV comes equipped only with Apple’s famously spartan single-button remote control.

On the viewing front, though, the landscape is a bit broader. Apple TV offers a growing number of channels, and there are persistent rumors the device will create pay-as-you-go unbundled bundles of live linear television channels, which the Telecommunications Act of 1996 intended to incentivize the cable television companies to do and which they promptly ignored.

Yet there is currently only one channel in the whole Apple TV lineup that offers esports viewing: ESPN. Even that’s not live, although ESPN does offer on-demand playback of some esports tournament main matches.

AMAZON FIRE TV STICK

Billed as a Chromecast on steroids, the Amazon Fire TV Stick sports a dual-core processor and 1GB of memory. Besides a dedicated remote, the Fire TV Stick also has a remote app for Android (and the Fire Phone) to control watching and playing games. While Fire TV Stick lets users play a few games, such as “Flappy Birds Family” or “Monsters University,” its gameplay is geared much more toward casual gaming than tournament play. Still, one can easily call up Twitch to view content, thanks to Amazon’s acquisition of Twitch in mid-2014.

ROKU

While it comes in a variety of sizes and output options, the Roku 3 is the best-equipped device in the Roku product line for both gaming and esports viewing. Not only is the remote designed to allow Roku users to play casual games, but the Roku channel ecosystem allows a variety of esports content to be viewed via community-created channels.

GOOGLE TV & CHROMECAST

While Google isn’t officially continuing Google TV development, the fact that Google TV devices such as the Sony NSZ-GT1 or the newer, thinner NSZ-GS8 offer a web browser means that content from any URL can be viewed in the browser, from Amazon Prime movies to Twitch esports content.

GOOGLE CHROMECAST

Unlike the Google TV, the Chromecast is alive and well when it comes to continuing development. Like Google TV, the Chromecast has an integrated Chrome browser, so watching esports on Twitch or other sites is as easy as typing in the URL.

MICROSOFT XBOX

From the original Xbox to the Xbox 360 and the newer Xbox One, Microsoft has continued to roll out impressive gaming consoles. Even as it preps some of the Xbox functionality for inclusion in the soon-to-be-released Windows 10 operating system, the combination of hardcore gaming capabilities and media delivery features in an Xbox makes this media console a top contender for many in the esports crowd.

Xbox itself has a delivery network, built out by Microsoft but supplemented by various CDNs, called the Xbox Live service. It lets Xbox owners “play games like ‘Titanfall’ and ‘Halo’ with your friends on a network powered by over 300,000 servers for maximum performance,” according to the Xbox Live website.

According to Microsoft, the idea around a cloud-hosted multiplayer service is threefold: to help eliminate lag; to help squelch cheating; and to allow Xbox One users to pair up with other players of a similar skill and playing style, via a technology called Smart Match.

Valve has been promising the low-cost Steam Machine gaming console for quite some time. For now, though games on the Steam Platform are available on televisions via the Big Picture connected device or on iOS an Android, while Microsoft is working on getting Steam content to the Xbox One.

Another area that Microsoft clearly sees competition is from erstwhile devices such as the Steam Machine, which Valve has been promising as a low-cost gaming console for several years now. It’s no surprise, then, that Game Informer, when reporting on the fact that Microsoft would allow Windows 10 users to stream Xbox One content to Microsoft tablets or Windows 10 desktops or laptops, sees this as a defensive move against Valve.

“If Microsoft were to get this working in a user-friendly way,” Game Informer’s Mike Futter wrote, “it would provide a much larger barrier to Steam Machines than already exists. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer showed off Steam running on his Windows 10 PC, and being able to connect a keyboard and mouse to the Xbox One to play those games would be an enormous competitive advantage.”

SONY PLAYSTATION

Like Xbox, the Sony PlayStation comes in a number of versions. The most recent is the PlayStation 4, which comes either alone or with DualShock controllers. As a gaming console, the PlayStation 4 has much more than just a built-in browser. Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) has been panned for its security breaches in the past, but the gaming and premium content delivery system has also consistently pulled in large numbers of gamers and entertainment viewers. On PSN, users can watch esports tournaments and movies, or they can play video games with tournament-level graphics and streaming delivery of audio and video in-game feeds.

The Impact of Esports on the Streaming Industry

We’ve barely made it past level one in our discussion of esport and streaming, so we’re probably still categorized as noobs in terms of understanding the market potential, though content delivery networks are well aware of the opportunities it presents. CDNs have traditionally done much more than streaming delivery. Many CDNs deliver large software files, from application updates to operating systems to games. They will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but the role of streaming in real-time game delivery is shape-shifting to a broader streaming media approach.

On one hand, gaming engines have toyed around with the idea of delivering only the parts of the game necessary for a particular expertise level, making the initial download much smaller. This stream-as-you-go model includes texture and image map downloads on-the-fly.

On the other hand, companies are experimenting with technologies such as NVIDIA’s GRID solution—which renders gameplay in the cloud and then streams each rendered, low-latency frame to the player’s machine to be decoded by the graphics processor (GPU). Look for more solutions such as this to create waves in the world of online multiplayer games.

For now, just remember that esports may not be as well-known as other kinds of streaming opportunities, but they’re quickly moving up the roster to become a finalist for the best revenue generator.

This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Streaming Media as "Esports: The Next Big Thing for Streaming?"

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