How to Leverage Opportunities in eSports Streaming
The opportunities for live streaming in the Esports space are growing exponentially. In 2018, according to Activate’s Tech Media Outlook report, viewers watched about 3.3 billion hours of eSports--about 10% of all sports viewing in the U.S. over the same 12-month period. And it’s not just the U.S. that is embracing eSports; Activate projects annual global viewership to exceed 450 million by 2021, surpassing all major sports but the NFL (Figure 1, below). What’s more, the Olympic Games committee is currently considering Esports for inclusion in future games as a legitimate sport.
Figure 1. eSports viewership at a glance
On the live streaming side, on Twitch alone we’re seeing 2.2 million daily broadcasts and 15 million daily viewers. Twitch’s concurrent viewership is around two million. That outstrips FOX News and ESPN on any given day.
Who’s driving this growth? It’s primarily gamers, influencers, and grandmothers--in short, regular users with access to a computer and internet connection.
Use Cases for eSports Streaming
The main use cases for live streaming in eSports include eSports commentary, “Let’s Play” streaming, and training and practice sections. Each involves a different level of complexity on the production side in terms of the gear and crew (if any) required.
For eSports commentary, that involves eSports leagues broadcasting their tournaments live with multiple cameras and higher-end production equipment (Figure 2, below).
Figure 2. An eSports tournament
“Let’s Play” streaming can start with a basic capture camera with just a mic, your console, and streaming to Twitch, Mixer, or any platform that you’d like (Figure 3, below). Obviously, it can range to high-end streamers like Ninjas or Shrouds that are using broadcast-level equipment, but it’s not always necessary.
Figure 3. A Shroud “Let’s Play” session
The training/practice sessions are operating at the most basic level, with just a capture card and a mic. With these sessions you’re mainly just showing the actual content of the video game, not necessarily a persona or anyone on camera.
Gearing Up for 4K Production and Delivery
Innovation is critical to moving eSports forward. It's not necessary to have a huge production and streaming system or crew to succeed in eSports. But it’s important to match production and delivery standards to the capabilities of viewer playback equipment and what they’re accustomed to watching on it. At IOGEAR, we’re increasingly focusing on the capture quality and the content that we’re outputting to viewers. More and more of today’s are watching eSports streams on 4K TVs, projectors, or computer monitors. We need comparable capabilities in capture cards to deliver the kind of video these playback devices are designed to play.
Of course, there’s currently a quite a bit of buzz about high frame rate video and streaming, particularly in the sports verticals. Between 4K and HFR, for the time being streamers are better-served by emphasizing 4K because most of today’s TVs max out at 60 frames per second.
On the hardware side, USB Type-C is established as the all-around universal connector. Most Android phones, laptops, and tablets have adopted USB-C, largely because of the bandwidth that the it can provide. It can range from USB 2.0 all the way up to Thunderbolt, which is capable of 40Gbps throughput. Many affordable, plug-and-play capture cards also use Type-C connectors.
A big part of these capture cards’ appeal is affordability compared to high-end broadcast switches. With external capture cards and external switches, a high-end streaming PC isn’t always required to deliver a professional-quality stream. With a broadcast switch that is stream-ready, you hook up the Ethernet connection itself and you’re ready to run.
The idea behind a lot of the products that we're developing is either to supplement the PC--or, in the case of the production switch, essentially eliminate it. If you’re a console eSports player, all you need is your console, a camera, a lighting rig, and you’re good to go. It’s a matter of lowering the cost to entry so that you don’t need to buy a console, buy a high-end PC, a lighting rig, or other broadcast-type gear. You can have one package where you can interact with Steamlabs or Twitch.
A number of IOGEAR products (Figure 4, below) will actually stream to two streaming services simultaneously, allowing you to capture more of the market space, and create more opportunities for eSports players and influencers to speak to multiple audiences at the same time, depending on where their user base is.
Figure 4. The IOGEAR Access Pro
The Future of eSports Livestreaming Hardware
The future of eSports, especially in the live streaming space, will see continued increasing investments in streaming hardware. One recent example is the eSports star Ninja, whose sponsor Monster Energy invested millions of dollars into his new studio. Most eSports streamers won’t be able to tap the vast resources of a sponsor like Monster Energy to build out their live streaming kit. But even streamers who work within tighter budgets are investing in Elgato and the Logitech gear to shore up the quality of their streams. As other live streaming players get into the market, we’ll see increased competition in the space that will translate into greater hardware investments.
From a streaming standpoint, the fact that the barrier to entry now has gotten to such a low level that a grandmother in Iowa can build a streaming empire playing World of Warcraft is indicative of how this market is growing. As the technology gets faster and more innovative, it allows eSports streaming to create more adoptions. As the streaming heat up with the exploding popularity of Twitch and Mixer, as well as newer entries like Caffeine (Figure 5, below).
Figure 5. Caffeine.tv
At present, the only beneficiary of streaming wars is YouTube, because all the players stream to Twitch and Mixer, but at the end of the day all of on-demand content ends up on YouTube. Meanwhile, we’re seeing a lot of influencers who are utilizing new pieces of hardware to capture, comment, and build out their empires so that they have a better chance of connecting with their communities, pulling in donations, and ideally becoming the next Ninja, Shroud, or Dr Disrespect.
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