Measuring The Quality Of Esports Viewership

Industry Guest Post: Kevin is the Chief Product Officer at Waypoint Media and in charge of all things data. Prior to Waypoint he was a Special Projects Engineer at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and most recently worked on the AppNexus data science team building revenue optimization algorithms. He can be reached at kevin@waypointmedia.com.


Esports audiences are simple: they’re young, growing, and most importantly — engaged. Given the nature of esports this has generally been taken at face value, however as the industry matures, sophisticated marketers will be looking to validate these assumptions.

Third party publications report viewership with two specific metrics: average concurrent viewers and viewer hours. Eagle eyed observers however will recognize that these strictly measure quantity — the volume of content consumed.

To measure engagement the real question is: how long are viewers actually staying?

Case Study — Overwatch League vs LCS

The launch of Overwatch League (OWL) has surpassed all expectations. The inaugural season of the OWL has been keeping pace and at times even outperforming Riot’s League Championship Series (LCS).

 

JUST THE BASICS

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From March 8th, 2018 to March 22nd, 2018 the classic metrics show that 20% more content was consumed on the OWL channel compared to the LCS, by broadcasting an extra 10 hours, and having 10% higher average concurrent viewers.

OWL looks marginally better here but there’s almost no information about actual audience behavior with the basic viewership metrics.

 

ENGAGEMENT DISTRIBUTION

To answer the question of audience behavior and to look deeper into viewing habits, Waypoint tracks near minute to minute channel viewership on over 82 million unique registered Twitch viewers.

With this we analyze what each viewer is watching and for how long. Aggregated across all broadcast we generate the engagement distribution.

Viewers are watching 48% longer on OWL compared to the LCS
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Applying this analysis to the OWL and LCS we see exactly how the audience is behaving during each league’s broadcasts — the results are staggering. OWL blows LCS out of the water and it’s not even close.

At the 50th percentile, viewers are watching 48% longer on the OWL compared to the LCS. Possibly even more impressive, 25% of OWL viewers are watching for at least 2.3 hours per broadcast.

 

CONCLUSION

The basic viewership metrics average concurrent viewers and viewer hoursare woefully insufficient in describing a live esports broadcast. A broadcast’sengagement distribution describes how that channel is able to retain its viewership over time.

Comparing OWL and LCS’s basic viewership data, it’s hard to tell how each broadcast is performing. The engagement distribution clearly shows that Overwatch League is outperforming the LCS in viewer retention.

OWL is shiny and new, so it’s hard to say whether or not they’ll be able to keep it up, but what they’ve done up to this point is incredibly impressive.

Amazon's GameOn Service Could Be Game Changing

TNL Take: Developers want to concentrate on one thing: making good games. However a slew of services need to be incorporated to make really great games. This could be anything from multiplayer functionality, leaderboards and tournaments to rewarding the top players - anything that drives game engagement and retention.

Amazon announced on Monday, Amazon GameOn, a cross-platform, competitive gaming service for developers. With GameOn, developers can easily integrate competitions natively into their games on mobile, PC, and console through a set of flexible APIs which is built on AWS cloud infrastructure. 

Here's what stands out about GameOn:

01/SERVICES

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GameOn currently supports leaderboards, leagues, and multi-round competitions - but most importantly gives developers - or anyone really -  the flexibility to create custom events. These tournaments can also be geo-targeted to allow for specific groups of players to take part. This could anywhere from countries and states to just your local McDonald's, which opens up a multitude of brand opportunities.

Developers can also enable players and streamers to create their own user-generated competitions and invite participants. Just imagine Twitch phenom Ninja running a Fortnite tournament for his massive viewing audience while doling out prizes to the winners - more on that shortly.

Further, all of these components are integral to creating a great esports experience outside the core component of the game itself.

Currently, Amazon GameOn is being used by 13 developers including nWay, Game Insight, Millennial Esports’ Eden Games and others.

 

02/PRIZING

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his is where it gets really interesting. In game rewards as well as watch-to-earn rewards have been around for a while and implemented in almost every mobile game. However implementing real-world rewards is a challenge. During my time at Kiip, one of the companies that pioneered rewards for games, we needed to collect email addresses in order to achieve fulfillment.

With Amazon GameOn, you simply sign into your Amazon account - and at this point who doesn't have one in the US - and the item is automatically shipped to you with no additional work for the developer or the customer. 

Another scenario: you're playing a geo-located tournament in Madden Mobile and the Top 10 winners all receive the team's jersey for placing. The cost of the jerseys could either be looked as a marketing expense or even better - have them brought to you by a brand.

 

03/COST

What's this all cost? Developers can use GameOn APIs for free until May 1, 2018. After that date, the first 35,000 plays per month are free for a limited time, then developers will pay $0.003 per play. 

Running simple math, if your game is doing 1M plays per day, that's almost $100,000 per month which may become cost prohibitive unless the ROI is there for developers that don't have any of the services integrated.

Esports and Casinos: MGM's Bet

TNL Take: As casino’s continue to see a dwindling return on gambling revenues and how to get the millennials back in the door, they’re looking at esports to help grow their business.

Today we’ll take a deeper dive into MGM and where the chips are being placed.

 

01/ DEDICATED GAMING AREA

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Opened in late 2016, MGM spent $2M+ converting the former Rainforest Cafe into LEVEL UP, a dedicated gaming and esports entertainment lounge.

The 12,000-square-foot gaming area opened with standard fare like pool and foosball but also includes a laser golf course using AR technology and a VR experience. 

In 2017, MGM made several moves to incorporate gaming and esports further into LEVEL UP which we'll get to below.

 

/02 ESPORTS EVENTS

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MGM properties have hosted a slew of esports events including the 2016 League of Legends Spring Finals and MLG Las Vegas, both at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. In early 2017, Dreamhack Masters Las Vegas featuring 16 teams and a $450,000 prize pool was held at the MGM Grand.

Recently, the MGM National Harbor in Maryland held the Rocket League Season 4 Championships.

To date, no one casino has held as many big esports events at their locations as MGM properties have.

 

/03 SKILLED BASED GAMING

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While slots contribute to a casino’s bottom line, they’re not being played by the younger audience. So what do you do? Combine video games and gambling — sorry skill based gaming.

In February of 2017, MGM installed Konami's first skill-based gaming machine, Frogger: Get Hoppin’, within LEVEL UP with a $2 minimum wager. MGM has also held free entry tournaments around Frogger as well.

In may, MGM Resorts International announced a partnership with Gamblit Gaming to bring two more skill based gaming titles to LEVEL UP — Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure.

While the jury remains out on the monetization potential for skill based gaming, there’s clearly a need for the casino’s to bring back millennials to the table. 

 

/04 ESPORTS VENUE

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Things start to get bigger now. 

Allied Esports and Esports Arena announced to build an esports venue at the Luxor Hotel and Casino; which it makes it the first permanent dedicated structure on The Strip when it opens this year.

The former nightclub is being turned into a 30,000 square foot arena, which will include daily gaming stations and more uniquely, food made by renowned chef Jose Andres.

This partnership shows that MGM is committed to esports in Vegas and that the a permanent space can service both daily clientele as well as larger events at broadcast quality.

 

/05 INVESTMENT

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Late last year, MGM made a seed investment into Foundry IV, led by Tobias Sherman formerly of WME | IMG. Foundry IV is a new game studio that's looking to create the next big esports hit along with new revenue models.

"As a leader in the entertainment industry, we are focused on the continued evolution of esports and its importance as a strategic initiative for our company," said Rick Arpin, SVP of Entertainment for MGM.

MGM's involvement in Foundry IV could be used for anything from esports gambling, viewing parties to regional events. 

 

MGM has made plenty of bets across the esports ecosystem and will be exciting to see what else 2018 has in store.

Ann Hand, CEO Super League Gaming


Can you share with me a little bit about Super League Gaming? What is it, what games/leagues to you offer and how does is benefit the overall esports ecosystem?

Super League was launched in 2015 with the aspiration to be the premier esports platform for amateur gamers.  With our City Champs league format, we allow gamers to unite under the banners of their City teams and engage in city v. city battles around the games they love.  Out of the gate, we started with a “little league” youth product built around Minecraft and launched into our more heightened, older demographic competitions with League of Legends in 2017.  We are launching two exciting top tier game titles this year along with introducing an all-star league to allow our very best players to take a greater spotlight in the ladder to the pros.

For a long time there has been a somewhat negative stigma tied to playing video games. What is SLG doing to educate parents and onlookers about gaming and how would you say SLG is breaking the stereotype?

This is really at the core of what our brand stands for.  We have run close to 2,000 events since our launch and what we see is that our gamers are a diverse, highly successful audience that debunks the old stereotype of gamers. And when you play with Super League you are part of something bigger than yourself – your city – and with that you get an added sense of belonging, glory of pursuit and personal growth that comes from being part of a team.

You did not start in the gaming industry, correct? Walk me through what brought you here and what parallels have you seen with esports and some of your past work experience?

While I was an avid gamer growing up as well as enjoying other sports, I presumed that being an outside would put me at a disadvantage in taking this role.  However the more that I went to the company’s earliest test events and the more I talked to the gamers and the parents, I got hooked.  There is such a massive unmet demand for this sort of competitive gaming league for amateurs – and so much good we can do with this offering.  As well, I realized that a lot of the experience  I did bring – building long term strategic partnerships and memorable customer experiences – was right up my alley.

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As esports continues to receive mainstream recognition, what do you feel has been the key factor in the growth of esports here in the US and globally?

I think there is so much still being understood and defined as this is such a huge, highly engaged global gaming audience, but I can tell you that the core insights we see at our events – how much gaming is a real lifestyle decision and no longer the thing you age out of, and the trend in families gaming together – tell us that current projections on the size of the industry in 2020 and beyond are grossly undervalued.

In January we saw a lot of endemic and non-endemic brands enter the esports space through Overwatch League, NALCS and professional teams. Has there been any entries that have surprised you and why? What brand(s) would you like to see enter the space and why?

We sit in a different position at the amateur level and as well serve such a wide diverse demo both in the age range and skill level of our various products.  What has me surprised me at Super League the most is how many non-endemics want to talk to us about our youth product.  It validates that so may brands want to get on esports and talk to mainstream gamers, but don’t have a lot of positive access points to reach them.  Super League’s super accessible wrapper around gaming and gamers provides that marketing channel in a way that is low risk for a brand.

There has been plenty of discussion on having more female representation in esports. Are their opportunities within Super League Gaming to encourage more female participation? If so what are they and is there anything in the pipeline for more inclusion in the future?

This is very top of mind for us in 2018 and increasingly a big part of our conversations with the publishers.  When you bring gamers together to join teams and play “in real life”, a ton of the toxicity comes out of gaming and with that makes a more inclusive atmosphere for female gamers.  And you can see it in our attendance numbers and the gender split.  We aspire to be a path to the pros for all gamers, and we think the “in real life” offer not only allows for faster skill progression, but also a legitimate launch pad for the next wave of great female gamers.

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I’m sure with such a successful inaugural year, there are big plans for 2018. Would you be able to give us a sneak peek into what’s in store for 2018?

City club expansion, more top tier game titles and more ways for all competitive gamers to join Super League regardless of where you live and what game titles you play.

Now that you are fully immersed in the gaming culture, do you have a favorite game to play or watch?

Well I watch a lot of League of Legends because we are constantly testing and running events, but I am terrified to attempt to play it.  Rocket League is so fun, fast and visually appealing so that might be the top right now.

What are you most excited about for esports in 2018?

Watching the pro ecosystem take this next important step with franchising and the ways the wider ecosystem begins to attract new brands and play into fresh, new content.  And of course holding out hope, even if it likely happens beyond 2018, that a gamer emerges out of Super League and gets a bid to the pros.  We only need one!