What Does Esports "Success" Look Like For Sports Leagues

Industry Guest Post: Brett Morris is a former Senior Vice President for Mark Cuban (MarkCubanCompanies.com) and former President/COO of esports innovator Super League Gaming (SuperLeague.com). He’s now a consultant in esports and other emerging technologies and can be reached at Brett@MorrisStrategic.com


I can guarantee you this: The five major U.S. sports leagues and the respective game publishers will see tremendous success as a result of their upcoming esports league journeys.

How to measure that success in the mid to long-term is obvious - increased game sales, sponsorship dollars, in-game purchases, viewership numbers, ticket sales, etc.

But how to evaluate in the short-term? What will set the table for long-term prosperity?

One measurement I use with many of the start-ups I’ve worked with lies in answering this one question:

“If you could caption one photo ‘Success’ (in this case, ‘Esports Success’), in your Instagram feed 2–3 years from now, what would that photo look like?”

For the sports video games and their leagues, the expected answer would be something along the lines of a photo of a rowdy, packed-to-the-brim stadium for an esports event or a capture of a headline outlining 2K’s micro transactions windfall.

But while each would be great, I strongly believe they may be too shortsighted.

I believe the photo mock-up below of a father and son in their respective Knicks/Knicks Gaming jerseys is the ideal “success” story:

Jersey.jpeg

At first glance, you may think I’m crazy. The father and son aren’t even at an event. There aren’t any sponsors. There are only two people.

But the simplicity of this photo best illustrates what’s fueled every major success in sports — from Super Bowl LII, to $12 billion baseball broadcast deals, to $100 million player contracts — and that’s 2 words:

Shared experiences.

  • You want sponsorship dollars, focus on shared experiences.
  • You want a spike in game downloads and in-game purchases, focus on shared experiences.
  • You want viewers and increased loyalty, focus on shared experiences.

While the phrase may be cliché to some in traditional sports marketing, it may be unfamiliar yet more important to many in esports.

Bottom line, shared experiences drive revenues.

For example, nine hypotheticals looking at that photo:

  1. Isn’t that dad more prone to buying his kid a Knicks Gaming jersey versus an Overwatch jersey come birthday present time? Even if the kid spends more time playing Overwatch.
  2. Come tomorrow morning, isn’t that kid more likely to share with his dad NBA 2K League highlights than League of Legends highlights?
  3. Will that dad ignore his kid’s in-game purchases on his credit card because he’s a Knicks fan too? 
  4. Won’t that dad be more excited to take his kid to a game at Madison Square Garden, knowing that it’s also the home of the Knicks Gaming team? That kid will be more excited to go too.
  5. Won’t that dad be more proud to tell his New York City co-workers that his son is draft eligible by the Knicks gaming team than the Rocket League team? And thus encourage him to play more NBA2K.
  6. Won’t that kid go to the local restaurant/bar with his dad to watch both the Knicks NBA game and the Knicks NBA2K game on TVs side-by-side?
  7. That dad will surely attend the NBA 2K League finals with his Knicks jersey and his kid.
  8. When that kid isn’t sure if he should use his allowance to buy Overwatch or the NBA 2K League update, which do you think his dad will recommend?
  9. Won’t that dad be more apt to tell other parents the experience he’s had with NBA2K rather than another game like Fortnite - which his kid loves?

So what does all this mean?

Put best by Brian Solis, author of The End of Business As Usual:

“This is the time to define an experience, what it should be, what it should feel like, what it should evoke. Because, if you’re not creating the experiences you want people to have and share, then your brand and the impressions that are formed as a result are theirs to define.”

What success looks like for the five major sports leagues and the game publishers starts with what shared experiences look like. In these early days of esports for sports leagues, we have the opportunity to focus on getting these shared experiences right.