Industry Guest Post: Jonathan Pan is an Esports Instructor at the University of California, Irvine. He has over 13 years of experience in management, strategy, or business development roles across companies small and large. After serving as a Product Manager at Riot Games, he co-founded and served as CEO of Ember, an esports team. He has also delivered one of the most viewed TEDx talks on esports.
In Part 1 we looked at mobile, a framework for analysis and Nintendo's esports strategy and Part 2 focused on Sony's esports efforts. Today will conclude with Microsoft.
Microsoft’s esports strategy appears to be growing the competitive communities of these first-party games: Halo, Gears of War, and Forza. Halo esports has been around for a long time and has kick-started the careers of some famous players today. In fact, the most popular streamer today, Ninja, was a former pro Halo player. However, he had some choice words to say about why he started taking a break from competitive Halo last year.
Gears of War appears to be doing better in terms of esports teams/player relations. Last week, they announced sharing 50% of revenues from skin sales to esports teams. Here’s how Complexity team owner Jason Lake responded:
On the input device front, the Xbox Elite controller is a hit. The controller is customizable with various features to help competitive gamers play better such as rear triggers, bumpers with adjustable sensitivity, adjustable sticks and better grips for long play sessions. Also, more button placements allows players to do more actions more comfortably, increasing performance.
On the platform services front, Xbox Arena allows players to create their own tournaments. It remains to be seen if tournament organizers will adopt to use Xbox Arena to create tournaments are continue to use established third-party tournament platforms such as Battlefy and FACEIT. Battlefy powers Nintendo’s Splatoon 2 tournaments as mentioned earlier. FACEIT became “one of the first Tournament Organizer partners for the Xbox Live Tournaments Platform” in 2016.
WHICH STRATEGY IS WORKING?
It’s too soon to tell if Sony or Nintendo’s strategies are working, but they are on good footing. The PS4 is the established market leader with 73.6 million units sold as of December 31, 2017. While Microsoft has not announced sales figures for Xbox One, analysts estimate that figure to be around 30 million. Size matters and Sony is well positioned to leverage their large install base once they have a first-party esports game.
In the meantime, positioning itself around the Call of Duty franchise in a time when Activision-Blizzard is making significant investment across all of their esports games, especially on the tournament administration and broadcast front, is a smart move as gamers won’t likely hear the words that plague other console esports efforts — “lack of investment” or “poor production.”
Nintendo is well-positioned to leverage Smash’s vibrant competitive community while continuing to build up the Splatoon 2 competitive community. The main complaint about Nintendo is that they haven’t done enough to support their esports efforts —now we have an opportunity to see what they will do in 2018.
Microsoft is on shakier ground. They clearly recognize what esports can do for its ecosystem and its games, which is why they have made significant investment in full-fledged esports leagues. However, the main hurdle seems to be spotty execution and not going all in when they need to. This is to be expected as many companies underestimate the amount of money it takes to run in-house tournaments with accompany broadcasts or outsourced ones.