DISNEY XD'S DIVE INTO ESPORTS
By Feature Writer: Jordan Fragen
TNL Take: You can point to Amazon's acquisition of Twitch in 2014 as eSports rapid inflection point. However beyond going to an event in person, the only previous way to watch and support your favorite teams and games was via digital platforms. As we reported last week, the number of eSports programs on TV has tripled in 2017 and brought visibility to a seemingly niche ecosystem.
That’s a huge step forward in itself.
Disney is clearly leading this charge to bring eSports to a wider audience. In mid-July, Disney XD launched their D|XP programming block along with a partnership with ESL. Described "to connect with gaming enthusiasts of all ages with a core demographic of age 13+", some of these shows feature stars from Disney owned MCN Maker Studios and its Polaris subnetwork.
However, much of this block has been devoted to eSports.
Disney is bringing in a demographic younger than the traditional audience. In 2016, the average age for eSports TV viewers was 32 - an audience vastly younger than for traditional sports, but definitely not the stated target of young men 18+.
Herein lies the challenge.
In the last 7 weeks, Disney XD has aired matches from 8 different games and even more tournaments. Let’s take a closer look at each of these games to see what has resonated the most with Disney XD’s younger demographic.
One usual caveat before the analysis: Like any eSports TV data, the sample size is relatively limited to draw definitive conclusions.
[Edit: No you're not seeing that wrong. Disney XD has put on 63 eSports/Gaming related programming in the last 2 months. And yes, The Next Level is working on a new way to present this data]
/01 HEROES OF THE STORM
Traditionally Blizzard’s MOBA has struggled to gain audience share on Twitch against Riot Games' League of Legends. However Heroes of the Storm was the first in the MOBA genre to make a US TV debut and most recently the media rights were acquired by Facebook.
- Viewership trended downward through the weeks despite viewership peaking on Episode 8 with 137K viewers
/02 EA FIFA 17
Along with a Spanish language feed on ESPN Deportes, Disney XD also aired games from FIFA 17’s Ultimate Team Championship Series. EA has already seen some success airing the Madden Championship Series in both 2016 and 2017, but FIFA has the potential to reach a larger international audience given it’s airing Futbol and not Football.
- 70%+ of the audience was outside of the 18-49 age bracket - why was this so low?
/03 STREET FIGHTER V
Street Fighter is perhaps the most unique case of the bunch. In addition to airing EVO 2017, Disney has partnered with ESL to make ESL Brawlers. The program features a syndicated series of tournaments and highlights some of the game’s post promising talent.
- The EVO 2017 Finals repeat garnered more viewers than the live event
/04 SPLATOON 2
Splatoon 2 is the second entry into one of Nintendo’s newest IPs. The game’s core mechanic of painting territory to capture makes the action easy to follow visually as I recently witnessed in person and further enhanced by the high quality spectator mode. Despite this franchise being new, it has Nintendo’s full support and is already extremely popular in Japan.
Splatoon 2 is the first game listed in this article that specifically appeals to Disney XD’s stated niche audience of young boys 13+. Given the less realistic nature and it’s vibrant color scheme, this shooter serves as a family friendly introduction to the First Person Shooter genre.
- As to be expected, the later timeslots received far fewer viewers than the earlier airings
While ARMS itself is extremely fun to play and easy to learn, it looks rather simplistic which is not a recipe for success when making something that's to be enjoyed by a large audience.
- Majority of of viewers (73%) were outside of the 18-49 demo as expected
/06 POKKEN TOURNAMENT DX
Originally released in Japanese arcades, Pokkén Tournament was a mash up of everyone’s favorite collectible monster franchise with the classic fighting game mechanics of the popular Tekken franchise.
Pokkén Tournament DX, the updated release for Nintendo’s Switch, hopes to remedy many of these problems and fulfill the initial promise of the mashup. And the initial airings point to a positive response from Disney XD’s audience.
- Pokkén Tournament DX was aired directly after ARMS twice. In these cases, Pokkén Tournament DX had fewer viewers than ARMS, suggesting that the audience did not carry over
/07 SUPER SMASH BROS. FOR WII U
It's somewhat shocking to see Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is making an appearance on this list. Until this day, Nintendo has had a rocky relationship with the Smash Bros. community, with its most contentious point in 2013 when Nintendo attempted to prevent EVO from streaming Super Smash Bros. Melee on Twitch.
But Nintendo has begun to change its tone with regards to Smash.
Last year, Melee was given the spotlight on the largest stage in the Fighting Game Community and was aired on ESPN2. However, along with Street Fighter V, Smash 4 was broadcasted on Disney XD. This is a massive change of heart for Nintendo given that Smash is by far the largest eSport with virtually zero support from its publisher.
Without wading into the murky waters of Smash community politics, this decision to change the time slots for Melee and the series newest iteration was not universally well received.
However, from Nintendo’s perspective, the decision was clear.
Smash Bros. for Wii U’s EVO top 8 was the second highest rated eSport on Disney XD and the highest average viewership for any game on the network. When the finals were repeated 2 weeks later, Smash only lost 23% of its audience from its initial live airing.
- When compared to the average show in the 6pm - 9pm time slot, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U earned 50% more average concurrent viewers. Yes, that’s right - 50%.
So overall, what should you take away from Disney’s first few weeks in eSports?
Let’s start off by comparing the average viewership numbers for all 63 eSports programs aired on Disney XD.
/01 eSports programming has been highly successful on Disney XD, especially Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
/02 The featured game in the eSports program had a greater impact than programming slot
/03 eSports have efficiently drawn in a younger audience. On average, only 26% of the audience falls into the 18-49 age bracket. Based on Disney Xd's demographics, the audience skews below 18.
/04 Generally speaking Nintendo titles outperformed other games. Due to Nintendo’s family friendly nature - it aligns perfectly with Disney XD’s younger audience.
It will be interesting to see if these viewership numbers remain consistent in the Fall when kids are back in school. I would also like to continue to see more family friendly games and eSports as Disney XD could serve as a pipeline for not only mainstream viewership, but to the next generation of eSports fans and stars.