The First Universal Esports Metric Is Finally Here

TNL Take: Writing about the business of esports for 3 years now, if there’s 1 topic that I’ve covered the most is esports TV and digital viewership.

I was the first to start reporting esports TV viewership as far back as August 2016 - which was just ELEAGUE back then.


However, the data being reported for esports digital viewership drove me insane. Here are some numbers that publishers would report:

  • Peak Viewers

  • Total number of Views

  • Pigeons watching outside your window

  • Unique Users

  • Total Viewers

  • Aliens on UFO’s near Alpha Centauri

None of it made any sense and here’s how many times I’ve addressed this:

May 10, 2016: MLG vs. MLB (Where even Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said “eSports viewership is greater than the individual audiences for NHL, MLB, or the NBA”)

August 3, 2016: Turner Still Spins Final ELEAGUE Viewership Numbers

September 15, 2016: Call of Duty Real Esports Viewership

October 24, 2016: Sorry, Esports Viewership Doesn’t Equal Baseball or Hockey...Yet

March 9, 2017: Time To Kill The Esports Beats Sports Stat

November 27, 2017: How Many Viewers Watched The League Of Legends Championship? Not 60M.

Sites like Kotaku, ESPN and USA Today were also reporting ridiculous viewership data:

Image: Google

Image: Google

I’ve even lost track of how many times I’ve tweeted about this as well.

Is that enough?

Now that it’s 2019, things have changed right? Wrong. Here are just 3 headlines in the past few months:

April 14, 2019: CNBC: This esports giant draws in more viewers than the Super Bowl, and it’s expected to get even bigger

April 19, 2019: Dot Esports: Study shows esports close to surpassing Super Bowl in viewership numbers

August 12, 2019: CCN: Esports Is Outgrowing Traditional Sports, First The Super Bowl, Now Monetization

There were also these amazing charts:

Image: Casino.ca

Image: Casino.ca

Image: Activate Inc

Image: Activate Inc

But now like manna from heaven, we are finally getting to the first universal esports viewership metric: AMA (Average Minute Audience) or ACV (Average Concurrent Viewers). Recently, Riot Games, Activision-Blizzard, Faceit and ESL have all released AMA/ACV data for the first time.

I spoke with the following industry leaders to get further insight:

Nielsen: Nicole Pike, Managing Director Nielsen Esports

Stream Hatchet: Albert Alemany, CTO & Bobby Baird, Director of Strategic Partnerships

Blizzard: Kasra Jafroodi, Strategy and Analytics Lead

Riot Games: Doug Watson, Head of Esports Insights

(I also reached out to StreamMetrics and ESL for comment but did not hear back.)

MEASUREMENT

TNL: I’ve said for 3 years that Average Concurrent Viewers or Average Minute Audience should be the first universal metric for esports. What’s your position on this standard? 

Nielsen: AMA is a consistent and dependable metric for esports viewership. This is a standard we have presented to and encouraged the use of with our Esports Advisory Board members, and are actively working with multiple publishers (including Activision-Blizzard and Riot) and event operators (including ESL) to increase its use across the industry.  Based on the data currently available for esports viewership, AMA is the metric most closely comparable to television ratings, which is the standard advertisers and sponsors use for viewership measurement. Allowing easy comparability of esports to these other forms of entertainment content is critical in driving trust and transparency for the industry.

Stream Hatchet: We agree on using AVG CCV/AMA as the standard metric for streaming. Not only because it allows for an apples to apples comparison with TV, which helps bring more ad revenue, but also because it's the only accurate way to compare events that do not necessarily follow the same structure. While other metrics like Hours Watched can also be insightful to get a sense of the total impact of a channel, a game title, or an esports event, AMA is a metric that can be understood by everyone. 

Riot Games: We strongly advocate that AMA should be the first universal viewership metric; it’s understandable and helps simplify comparisons with linear formats. Industry standards are critical to unlocking accurate media valuations as this ecosystem continues to grow. Without universal standards, it’s challenging to have conversations with partners, sponsors, and investors who are interested in supporting esports. By promoting the use of AMA, we hope to improve the industry and create a rising tide that will raise all ships.

Activision-Blizzard: We completely agree. AMA is the most fair representation of viewership for all live content and it is directly comparable with traditional sport numbers. It’s extremely helpful to everyone in the ecosystem (brands, agencies, investors, and press) to truly understand how esports performs against everything else. 

TNL: How are you currently measuring AMA and at what intervals? 

Nielsen: We calculate AMA either by averaging time-stamped viewership (one-minute intervals are most preferred; no longer than five minute intervals are recommended to ensure data stability) over the course of a broadcast, or by dividing Total Minutes Watched by Total Minutes of Broadcast.

Stream Hatchet: Currently, we focus on Live Streamed AMA. All the major distributor platforms offer a way for measurement platforms to read at any given time what is the concurrent viewership of any channel that is broadcasting. We capture the concurrent viewership every minute for every channel that is streaming on any of the major platforms. To obtain the AMA of a specific channel or event we only need to average all the reads that we did for that channel across the corresponding period. 


TNL: What are the plans for Asia, particularly China?

Nielsen: We are definitely increasing our work and focus in Asia, of course China being part of this. One of the benefits of working with Nielsen is our ability to combine the local market expertise that comes with our global scale in our Sports and Brands businesses with the esports-specific knowledge of our Esports team. 

Stream Hatchet: While most international platforms outside of China will likely adopt similar measurement practices through concurrent sessions in order to land the same investment that western platforms are seeing, Chinese platforms are a different beast. Comparing a metric like Views from Twitch to YouTube Gaming is hard enough. One platform counts a view after 10 seconds, the other one counts a new channel view after 6 minutes. Comparing something like Hours Watched to a "Popularity Score" seems almost pointless when it's nearly impossible to understand how the score is calculated. 


RESULTS AND BRANDS

TNL: What have been the early results of publishing AMA data and brand reaction?

Activision-Blizzard: What has really stood out to us is how competitive we are with traditional sports when you look at the 18-34 demo. While traditional sports boast high overall numbers, when you actually narrow their audience down to the most valuable segment (18-34), you lose the majority of the audience.  The brand conversations couldn’t be going better. Everyone is very appreciative that they can finally get some numbers they can compare to their other investments. 

Riot Games: Brands that we’re working with have been great supporters of our push for better industry standards, more transparency into performance, and our ability to help guide their strategy on how to engage with esports fans today.  AMA is a metric that they are familiar with and can better translate to their internal KPIs and initiatives. Our brand conversations have been very positive.  A number of our partners have existing relationships or have worked with Nielsen in the past, which makes the results easy to integrate with their overall measurement systems and evaluate within their portfolio of sponsorships. Commitment to transparency has been a longstanding pillar of our sport. 

TNL: Has there been a specific metric or theme that stood out from this data?

Activision-Blizzard: We’re seeing that OWL’s regular season USA AMA of 55K is already beating some leagues in the USA like MLS and MLB. When you take into consideration that every league is declining in the 18-34 demo (while OWL is up 11 percent YoY), it won’t be long before OWL becomes one of the largest leagues in the US.

Riot Games: With Nielsen specifically, the key metrics they are measuring have been tied to media valuation and the performance of specific activations. Beyond that, our measurement and data has been tailored to support the initiatives of our partners. Each has a different goal and perspective on success and our aim is to help them evaluate that performance, as well as exceed it, by giving them the right tools and information.

AMA CHALLENGES

TNL: What do you see as the main hurdle to have AMA accepted across the major publishers, tournament operators, media companies and platforms alike?

Activision-Blizzard: People have to accept that these numbers are going to be lower than what has been previously reported (peaks, views, uniques) but they are much more accurate and representative of viewership. Esports doesn’t need to be bigger than the Super Bowl today and it doesn’t help anyone in the long term if we continue to push an inaccurate narrative.

Riot Games: Education. We need to share standards for what numbers mean, how they’re calculated, and how to interpret them. The faster we can do this, the faster everyone can get on the same page and facilitate better conversations, which will continue to grow the industry. The fans continue to grow, the events only become more spectacular and being able to express that in a meaningful way to non-endemics is the next step to take.


Thanks to everyone for participating and providing further insight into this metric. The one area that I would add as a hurdle - which can be easily addressed - is for research companies, publishers, tournament operators and brands to agree on one measurement for AMA/ACV/Whatever name.

From the garbage data we were seeing a few years back (and still seeing), has finally been addressed by the biggest players in the esports space and that is amazing progress.

Is Houston The Next Call Of Duty Franchise?

TNL Take: Last week on Activision-Blizzard’s Q2 earnings call, CEO Bobby Kotick revealed that the 8th slot for the upcoming Call Of Duty League has been sold. However, while the previous 7 slots have all been named, there was no mention of which investor or investment team purchased this slot and for what city.

The Next Level has been investigating this a bit, speaking with several industry insiders and researching additional information sources.  We want to qualify this take by noting that we do not have direct sourcing or confirmation, but based on these industry conversations and piecing together the clues, the Next Level believes that Houston will receive 1 slot in the upcoming Call of Duty League. Let’s see how the dots connect.

1/OVERWATCH LEAGUE FRANCHISES

(Photo: Activision-Blizzard)

(Photo: Activision-Blizzard)

As reported by Jacob Wolf of ESPN last June (who seems to breaks almost all Activision-Blizzard related news), franchise owners in the Overwatch League have been given a first right of negotiation for the upcoming Call of Duty League slots.

That’s exactly what happened in May of this year when Activision-Blizzard announced the first 5 cities:

  • Atlanta (Overwatch League Team: Atlanta Reign)

  • Dallas (Overwatch League Team: Dallas Fuel)

  • New York (Overwatch League Team: New York Excelsior)

  • Paris (Overwatch League Team: Paris Eternal)

  • Toronto (Overwatch League Team: Toronto Defiant)

2/INFINITE ESPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT SALE

(Photo: Infinite Esports and Entertainment)

(Photo: Infinite Esports and Entertainment)

As reported by Jacob Wolf in May, LA based Immortals raised a $30M series B funding round, rebranded to Immortals Gaming Club and were one of a few bidders looking at buying Infinite Esports and Entertainment, the parent company of OpTic Gaming and Houston Outlaws.

In June, Infinite Esports and Entertainment were indeed acquired by Immortals Gaming Club. However, Immortals Gaming Club already have an Overwatch League team with LA Valiant and Activision-Blizzard prohibits franchise owners to field 2 teams in the same league.

3/IMMORTALS GAMING CLUB

(Photo: Riot Games)

(Photo: Riot Games)

Following a similar pattern as the first 5 cities, Immortals (Overwatch League Team: LA Valiant) acquired the 6th slot for Los Angeles for the Call of Duty League in July. Immortals Gaming Club and Splyce are currently the only esports teams to have teams in all 3 current franchised leagues: League of Legends, Overwatch League and Call of Duty League.

The 7th slot went to Minnesota via acquisition by Wise Ventures, an investment firm founded by Minnesota Vikings owners the Wilf Family and VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuck. This is the sole slot without a companion Overwatch League franchise.

Also Minnesota is a state, why wasn’t it Minneapolis-St.Paul, unless location is still being determined?

4/HOUSTON OUTLAWS SOLD

(Photo: Activision-Blizzard)

(Photo: Activision-Blizzard)

2 weeks ago as reported by Jacob Wolf (seeing a pattern yet?), Houston real estate investor Lee Zieben agreed to buy the Houston Outlaws for $40M from Immortals Gaming Club. The deal has not been executed but is expected to close in late August.

5/NORTH TEXAS

(Photo: Complexity Gaming)

(Photo: Complexity Gaming)

While southern California was initially the leading geographical area for teams, developers and startups, north Texas has quickly established itself as the next dominant domain for esports. Envy Gaming is based in Dallas. Complexity Gaming opened a massive complex adjacent to the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Frisco, which was also home to OpTic Gaming prior to their sale.

5/HECZ

(Photo: Heczquarters)

(Photo: Heczquarters)

This is the biggest wildcard of all.

I first met Hector “Hecz” Rodriguez 6 years ago during my time at Major League Gaming. Not only is he one of the nicest people in the esports industry, the growth of OpTic Gaming, his hustle and drive are inspirational and he deserves significant credit for where the space has gone.

How popular is Hector? Just read the thousands of Twitter comments made during the OpTic Gaming transition. His recently launched Heczquarters merchandise is already sold out.

Hector is still based in Frisco, Texas and why wouldn’t you want someone who has been around the Call of Duty scene for many years and created the most popular team for that title. There is no confirmation on this but would fit perfectly. Yet another dot?

Hector created the OpTic Gaming brand and in my opinion the “new” LA OpTic Gaming is not the same without him.

This narrative is our hypothesis that Houston will receive one of the Call of Duty League slots. To end with the same qualification, while hearing from industry sources and putting together this thread, it’s still not 100% confirmed. 

The Next Level reached out to The Zieben Group for comment but has not heard back as of this publication.

But again, the dots we are threading are:

  • Overwatch League franchises tied to Call of Duty League franchises

  • Recent purchase of Houston Outlaws by a wealthy investment firm

  • The growth of the esports industry in North Texas

  • The potential involvement of Hector “Hecz” Rodriguez

 

Doesn’t it make sense?

Melbourne Could Be Next For Overwatch League

TNL Take: As the first year for Overwatch League comes to its conclusion, it's never too early for the rumor mills to start churning for year two.

Sources have told the Australian Financial Review that Blizzard is targeting Melbourne for one if its expansion slots. Activision's CEO of Esports Leagues Pete Vlasetelica previously mentioned that the league would expand from 12 to 18 with "two from the Americas, two from Asia-Pacific, and two from Europe and the Middle East".  Overwatch League currently has 9 teams in the US, 2 in Asia and 1 in the UK.

The Australian esports scene has emerged over the past few years including sports clubs from the AFL like Adelaide Crows and Essendon Bombers both investing in teams. Gfinity recently launched their Elite Series city-based league including Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

Further, the Victorian state government promises to make Melbourne the home of esports after announcing the country's biggest event, Melbourne Esports Open the first weekend of September. In partnership with TEG Live and ESL, the event is expected to draw 10,000 fans each day.

8728b8b94bbc442556b88e2b9816b60b.jpeg

Whoever gets the one of the next 8 slots will need to pony up a pretty penny however. From the inaugural season buy in of $20M, expansion slot fees have now risen to $30-$60M sources tell ESPN

Nate Nanzer, Commissioner of Overwatch League, wouldn't confirm the rumor but added:

"We're open to having a conversation about any city.  If somebody wants to have a conversation with us about Melbourne, we would definitely have the conversation and be very interested. It's a global league, so we want big, globally recognisable cities. Our focus is really on expansion in Europe and throughout Asia Pacific, of which Australia and New Zealand is a part".

Here's The Next Level's previous 2-part series on Australia and esports.

Can The NBA 2K League Become "The Greatest Show on Earth"? Here Are 30 Ideas.

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


Last week I wanted to completely change the perception of the NBA 2K League from “video game basketball,” (which one journalist recently called it) to the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

So I invited showmen P.T. Barnum and Evel Knievel to a brainstorming session. They invited their friends Roone Arledge (Monday Night Football creator) and Bill Veeck (innovative baseball promoter). Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis’ manager) showed up a little late.

The goal: Take an NBA 2K League broadcast and turn it into must-watch entertainment for gaming, esports and NBA fans — of all ages and levels of interest — while painstakingly retaining the authenticity of the core games of basketball and NBA 2K.

The perspective: To succeed in esports/gaming programming, one must constantly blow the viewers’ doors off. Non-stop flame throwing. Keep in mind, this is an industry that saw its second-most-watched game, PUBG, be replaced by a similar, yet new and now most-watched game, Fortnite, almost overnight.

The brainstorm rules: You can’t recommend changing any of the core programming that Visual Concepts and Take Two Interactive continue to perform miracles on to get ready for the inaugural NBA 2K League season. Any ideas must be additive to the core game. (i.e.: no recommending four point shots, etc).

So, after many drinks and much reminiscing (Knievel’s Wembley Stadium jump stories are tough to beat), here’s just some of the ideas we came up with. Like any brainstorming, some are wacky and some are great, and some we’re keeping secret for other potential clients. In no particular order :

  1. Trash Cash: Reward players who do the best trash-talking and have Twitch viewers chime in with their favorites.
  2. Live Twitch viewer rewards: “Twitch chat participant John Z, you get $100 if Knick Gaming scores on their next possession.”
  3. For casual fan perspective, make sure every NBA 2K League player has an NBA player comparison in terms of describing their game.
  4. In-game money challenges. “Next team to score six points wins $500.”
  5. Hand Cam. Casual fans have no idea how great these guys really are with their stick skills. Show it.
  6. Who’s working on real nicknames, not mostly lifeless gamer tags? And casual fans still want to know real names too.
  7. Pressure? Let’s hook them up to heart monitors and put those stats on the screen.
  8. Savage Interview. Pause the game and interview the player: “Why did you just make that crazy pass?”
  9. Live head coach microphone and cam. Can coaches really make a difference in esports, especially during a game?
  10. Pause the game and let Twitch viewers call one offensive play for each team.
  11. Dedicate one practice game per week as amateurs versus pros with the amateurs being from the home team’s city (and put live on Twitch).
  12. Position games as “shows” and not “events.”
  13. Dedicate a Thursday night game to traditional broadcast TV. Make it the “pub game” of the week and encourage micro bets at local watering holes.
  14. Constantly talk about prize money. As in, if this guy doesn’t step up his game he’s literally handing $5 thousand to his opponent.
  15. Make all the different team uniforms unique and original. Don’t do what Overwatch did and make all the team jerseys the same construction (just with different logos/colors).
  16. Speaking of uniforms, make them complete uniforms from head to toe— i.e., give them pants too (maybe shootaround type pants), not just random jeans players wear in other leagues.
  17. Don’t schedule matchups until the previous week’s contests are complete. Creating early rivalries are key.
  18. Pay Nike or Adidas or Supreme or Wieden+Kennedy to do an ad campaign featuring their products on NBA 2K League “athletes.”
  19. Don’t be afraid to constantly promote individual greatness and create discussion around it. As in, “Fresh Prince JT is the current favorite for MVP.”
  20. Make play-by-play and color casters/announcers a priority. Pay them really well. Nothing will sink the league faster than bad casters. And make sure they know both 2K and basketball — there’s a difference.
  21. Listen-ins to player conversations in headsets.
  22. Come up with interesting new stats like “number of ankles broken,” “number of posters created,” etc.
  23. Make sure to always mention players’ hometowns.
  24. Coach draws up a play viewable to the audience watching online.
  25. Create a dope soundtrack by pairing a classic stadium organist with a DJ.
  26. Hire KingSwish to do more of these play recreations. Nothing shows the realism of 2K better.
  27. Make sure there’s at least one player face on the screen at all times.
  28. Create villains first. Then heroes.
  29. Use halftime to connect with pop culture with music videos and movie trailer premieres.
  30. In future seasons, every team roster needs to have at least one international player or one player from the team’s city.