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What Esports Can Teach Video Creators About Attracting Viewers

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In case you haven’t heard, esports have been taking the world by storm. From Asia to Europe to the Americas, kids playing video games compete against each other for millions of dollars in prizes. No, you read that right.

Kids playing video games are making millions of dollars.

Not all of them, of course, but if that statement alone wasn’t enough to illustrate the growth of this phenomenon, just consider that Robert Morris University in Chicago now considers esports a varsity sport and offers half-ride scholarships for talented players. The university even has a $100,000 practice facility. What’s more, a recent League of Legends World Qualifier tournament packed Madison Square Garden. That’s right—filled it with people who wanted to watch the likes of Team Liquid and Counter Logic Gaming duke it out on the Jumbotron. And to top it off, just look at Amazon’s $900 million acquisition of Twitch and YouTube’s recent launch of its Twitch competitor, YouTube Gaming.

Like most people, I’m fascinated just by the concept of winning millions of dollars playing video games, but what’s happening around the competitions is equally interesting, if not more so. Although that recent League of Legends tournament jammed the Garden, it’s probably safe to say that at least two or three times as many people were tuning in to the live broadcast. Stop and think about that for a moment— tens of thousands of people tuning in to watch a live esports event. And you can probably bet that even more have watched the tournament since then on demand. Don’t believe it? Well here are a few viewership numbers from last year’s League of Legends World Championship: 27 million total viewers; 11.2 million people joined concurrently to watch Samsung Galaxy White obliterate Star Horn Royal Club; the average viewer logged 67 hours of video time; and viewers consumed more than 179 million hours of video over the month-long tournament.

What’s important about these numbers isn’t just that they are big (and they are big; to put them into perspective, the World Series averages around 13 million viewers) but that they illustrate three tenets about publishing video.

The first tenet is, “Content rules.” If you want people to watch your video, you have to give them what they want—compelling content. Content brings viewers to your doorstep. For most of us, that means developing and delivering a great story.

The second tenet is, “Video is an experience.” Although the content has to be compelling in the first place, your viewers aren’t watching your content in a vacuum—they are watching within a larger context. In the world of esports, that context is the game. Viewers can watch teams compete and then try to replicate what they’ve seen. For everyone not in the game industry, making a video game or an app to provide context for your story shouldn’t be out of the question. Look at what Chipotle did with its Scarecrow campaign (scarecrowgame.com). It’s all about creating an experience.

The third tenet is, “You need to create demand.” The problem that most organizations have with their video content is that they publish and forget it. They wrongly believe that “if they film it, they will come.” But look at what esports does—it creates demand by tying video content to an event, to something that is going to happen (i.e., a tournament match), then builds awareness around the event rather than the video. This approach, though, is not limited to esports. Consider what Red Bull did with its Stratos project—we all waited with bated breath for the day Felix jumped from the balloon.

You may not believe esports players are athletes, but you can’t deny these games and events are driving video viewership. And that is something from which we can all learn.

This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “What Esports Can Teach Us About Online Video.”

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