eSports Media Evolution's Next Move: Twitch, NBC, ESPN, Yahoo


2016 eSports Media Evolution. What's Next? (Photo: The Next Level)

2016 eSports Media Evolution. What's Next? (Photo: The Next Level)

TNL Take: It's #TBT - that's Throwback Thursday's for those stuck to their Bloomberg monitors rather than Instagram Stories - and the kids use it to post something today based on something old.

So here's a #TBT on eSports media evolution and where it's potentially heading next.

Last August in The Next Level 059, I spoke about the future fragmentation of eSports viewing; whereas a few years ago you only went to Twitch, 2016 brought a slew of distribution partners.

TNL Infographic 007: eSports Media Evolution (Infographic: The Next Level)

TNL Infographic 007: eSports Media Evolution (Infographic: The Next Level)

On the last deal between Yahoo eSports and ESL, note why I felt it was important from what seems like a millennium ago and where this plays into our story later today:

Yahoo eSports and ESL (Photo: The Next Level 059)

Yahoo eSports and ESL (Photo: The Next Level 059)

Now let's come back to 2017.  As mentioned earlier this year in The Next Level 128:

TNL Take: Go ahead and file this away till December but mark my words:
In 2017, eSports TV, broadcast rights and exclusivities will see big growth.


Here's what happened in just the first 2 months of 2017:

TNL Infographic 031: eSports Media Evolution 2017 (Infographic: The Next Level)

TNL Infographic 031: eSports Media Evolution 2017 (Infographic: The Next Level)

There have been even more deals - like YouTube essentially cornering Counter-Strike content - but let's highlight the last 3 to reflect the new reality:



Exclusive Overwatch Loot Item for Twitch Prime Members (Photo: Twitch)

Exclusive Overwatch Loot Item for Twitch Prime Members (Photo: Twitch)

Last week, Twitch and Blizzard announced a huge 2 year exclusive 3rd party streaming agreement and partnership.

The deal is made up of two parts: content and in-game integration.

On the content side, Twitch gets access to Blizzard titles including Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm - pay attention to this one for a moment.

Twitch also gets access to 20+ events including:

  • StarCraft II World Championship Series
  • Hearthstone Championship Tour
  • Hearthstone Global Games
  • World of Warcraft Arena Championship
  • Overwatch APEX League
  • Overwatch Premier Series
  • Heroes of the Storm Global Championship

I've highlighted the last 3 because of the following: Ad Sales, the necessary evil, tug-of-war that exists both internally at publishers and externally at agencies and brands. Let me paint a simple picture:


[Media Buyer/Brand]: How can we work with Heroes of the Dorm? Please talk to Facebook, they have the exclusive.

[Media Buyer/Brand]: OK, how about the Heroes of the Storm Championship? Please talk to Twitch, they have the exclusive.

[Media Buyer/Brand]: OK, what about the Overwatch League? Please talk to Major League Gaming and whoever else they will partner with.

[Media Buyer/Brand]: But, wait, what about the Overwatch Apex League? Please go back and talk to Twitch.

Sound complicated? Just try explaining eSports.


The second part of the deal, just like Twitch Prime, is genius. Twitch Prime members will receive access to a slew of in game items across Blizzard titles and an exclusive Overwatch Loot box. Over the next year, Twitch Prime members will receive almost a dozen more of these.

"Loot Boxes" are essentially the lottery system inside gaming which primes the monetization pump: Want a really cool shirt for your character, skin for your gun or a Madden/FIFA player that's ultra rare? Buy a box and hope you win. Good luck!

We will continue to see exclusive, multi-platform deals across the same title. Ultimately, this benefits the publisher the most - like always - and more content for viewers to engage with.

But while we are still so early stages in the monetization of eSports, does this make it easier for media buyers and brands, the ones ultimately funding the current "infrastructure"?

This is just move preview #1.



NBC To Broadcast Rocket League Across Multiple Platforms (Photo: Psyonix)

NBC To Broadcast Rocket League Across Multiple Platforms (Photo: Psyonix)

NBC has finally entered the eSports space by partnering with Psyonix's Rocket League. NBC Sports will work with online tournament platform FACEIT for a 2v2 event with a $100,000 prize pool.

The tournament will be shown across both TV, Digital and OTT with the current list including:

  • NBC Sports Regional Networks
  • NBC Sports Network
  • Telemundo Deportes
  • NBCUniversal International Networks

In terms of TV dates, NBC Sports PR told me

"The Regional Finals will be played at NBC Sports Regional Networks studios on the weekends of August 5-6 and August 12-13, and will be live-streamed on the NBC Sports app and Telemundo En Vivo app, as well as other social media platforms. Participating NBC Sports Regional Networks will televise the final hour of coverage from each of the Regional Finals.
The Grand Finals will feature 16 total teams competing on August 26-27 for the inaugural title and the $100,000 prize pool, which will be televised live in the U.S. on NBCSN. The Grand Finals will also be broadcast on Syfy in the UK, Germany, Australia and multiple countries across Latin America, in addition to all previously listed streaming outlets.

Wow that's a lot.

Now for Movie Preview #2.

Twitch has the exclusive on the Rocket League Championship series of which Season 3 performed very will with 150,000 average concurrent viewers and 1.5M+ hours viewed.  Further, Twitch did a phenomenal job on selling brand sponsors which included Mobil1, Old Spice and Brisk/7-11.

Oh, there's also the 7-11/Brisk Rocket League Summer Series going on right now.

When does Rocket League Season 4 start?




Even More Rocket League (Photo: Psyonix)

Even More Rocket League (Photo: Psyonix)

The business development team/person must have been on overdrive after Rocket League's Season 3 Championship as they've signed another deal, this time with the game featured at ESPN's X-Games.

Tournament platform FACEIT will again be involved in the $75,000 prize pool event which will be streaming on ESPN3 from July 14-16. eSports isn't new to X-Games as they've previously hosted titles including Call of Duty and Counter-Strike.

Movie Preview #3



Blizzard titles will probably be the first on the Mars OTT network. Rocket League may make there 4th distribution deal before the end of the year.

Is there enough audience to consume this content clutter?

Let's not even start on the issue of the bloodbath going on across media today, with just eSports related cuts: Yahoo eSports shuts down, GAMURS closing Wiki site due to poor ad revenue and ESL cutting staff yesterday.



Let's ask a question:

Do the financial teams at Blizzard or Pysonix look at the media rights checks in front of them and say "But won't this make it potentially difficult for ad sales and brands to understand?"

I'll bet a million loot boxes that check was cashed before the question was even answered.

Why do I keep saying movie previews? Because, I've seen this movie before - many times.

In Game Advertising (Photo: Jamie Burke)

In Game Advertising (Photo: Jamie Burke)

My first article ever written was in October 2015 - "In Game Advertising: Failure or Future?"


I really hope it's the latter.

As Sports Viewers Skew Older, eSports Is Youngest


The eSports Audience: Younger Than Sports (Photo: Riot Games)

The eSports Audience: Younger Than Sports (Photo: Riot Games)

TNL Take: Recently Magna Global in a study for the SportsBusiness Journal used Nielsen data across 24 sports to analyze how the median viewership ages have changed from 2000-2016.

"Going gray: Sports TV viewers skew older" (Source/Photo: SportsBusiness Journal)

"Going gray: Sports TV viewers skew older" (Source/Photo: SportsBusiness Journal)

It's a great article filled with actual data and worth your time to read but a quick TL/DR:

  • Headline "Going gray: Sports TV viewers skew older"
  • The median age for Golf is ~60
  • The NHL saw the biggest increase in media age increase (+16 years) from 2000 to 49
  • 3 of the 4 major US sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL) are ~50 or higher

Why wouldn't they include eSports?

No data going back to 2000, only 1 data point from 2006 (MLG on USA Network) and no 100% apples-to-apples to comparison for eSports in 2016 yet. So all fair points.

But I was curious so I did it anyways.

Here's how Sports viewership on TV compares with eSports on TV: 

Before we get into the data a few HUGE caveats:

  • The Magna Global/SBJ data is quantitative Nielsen data over time. The 32 median age for eSports is based on Nielsen's 2016 eSports report which is a survey. So while not a true exact comparison, it's the closest publicly released data point available.
  • I won't even compare major Sports viewership vs. eSports - it's not even close
  • While eSports viewers are almost 2 decades younger than an NFL viewer, the ad revenue is the size of an ant compared to the blue whale money machine of football

So how close can we get to accurate data?

Let's may hear some news shortly. But there are a 2 additional data points I can add:

  • There have been 50+ eSports programs on TV in the US from 2016 to today
  • The average of those 50+ programs is ~55% within the 18-49 demo

While that still doesn't give us a definitive median age for eSports on TV, the current data falls closely to the 32 survey age.

However, I didn't include this point in the chart to avoid confusing digital and TV - please stop that already - but in terms of media and eSports future, I believe it's important:


While the median age of eSports on TV is ~32, the media age on streaming platforms is even lower at 25


TV is a $70B+ industry in the US.  The NBA Finals draw 20M+ viewers - which has increased for the past 3 years. TV is not disappearing anytime soon especially with digital media mired in the  "programmatic/DSP/SSP, it's-not-adtech-its-martech, brand safety, what's-a-view-exactly" mud.

But if your target audience is 18-49 and you believe that moving (1) :30 second commercial spot for $250,000 to eSports is not worth your time - your competitors will.

2017 eSports TV Ratings: ELEAGUE Finals Reach 335K Viewers, #2 Show For 2017


ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Invitational Winner Punk (Photo: Turner)

ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Invitational Winner Punk (Photo: Turner)

TNL Take: This weekend saw ELEAGUE's Street Fighter V Invitational come to a conclusion with Victor "Punk" Woodley winning the inaugural tournament taking home $150,000. 

TNL Infographic 044: 2017 Q2 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

TNL Infographic 044: 2017 Q2 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

  • ELEAGUE Street Fighter: The Finals reached 335,000 total viewers and 183,000 in the 18-49 demo making it the top rated show for Street Fighter's season as well as the #2 show for the year.

For comparison, If the ELEAGUE Finals were on The CW on a Thursday night at 9PM vs. on TBS on a Friday at 10PM, it would have been the #1 rated show for the year.

When looking at ELEAGUE's TV ratings history, Street Fighter performed well when compared vs. Counter-Strike Season 1.

TNL Infographic 045: ELEAGUE TV Ratings History - Total Viewers (Infographic: The Next Level)

TNL Infographic 045: ELEAGUE TV Ratings History - Total Viewers (Infographic: The Next Level)

This isn't surprising as the Fighting genre is much easier for a casual fan to understand.

Here's what I said last July in The Next Level 031 after ESPN showed Street Fighter at EVO last year:

The Next Level 031 (Photo: The Next Level)

The Next Level 031 (Photo: The Next Level)

ELEAGUE announced the return of Counter-Strike this fall.


But there's another league that ELEAGUE hasn't announced yet and that could be even bigger than Street Fighter.

eSports On TV: What Do The Ratings Mean?


Just a Family Watching eSports on TV (Photo: Kotaku)

TNL Take: Now that we're done talking about Super Bowl 51's ratings and God's son performing a miracle  ("Despite Overtime, Ratings Drop!", "Lowest Ratings In 3 Years!", "Lady Gaga Beats Brady!" , "Cheaters!"), let's take some time reflect on another accomplishment this weekend: eSports aired across several TV networks and ESPN's 1st broadcast directly against The Big Game™.

Here are the numbers:

eSports On TV 2017 (Infographic: The Next Level)

So what's this all mean?

As usual, let's start with the qualification: It's very early days with minimal data, so any attempt at analysis or future ratings is an educated guess at best.



Madden Bowl at Super Bowl LI (Photo: Bob Levey/Getty)

Madden Bowl at Super Bowl LI (Photo: Bob Levey/Getty)

Looking at what the NFL Network aired the previous Friday at the same time, Madden Bowl increased Viewership by 57% in 18-49 Viewers:

NFL Network Madden vs. Previous Friday Ratings (Chart: The Next Level)

However on the Spanish language broadcast on Univision Deportes, it performed worse than the 1st Madden event in 2016:

EA Madden NFL eSports TV Ratings (Chart: The Next Level)

Further, take the following points into account:

  • Still early days for Madden eSports
  • Comparing Madden against a long established eSports franchise like Counter-Strike
  • Madden's Fri Night time slot vs. Sunday Morning for Counter-Strike

From a programming perspective and without knowing the content costs, this looks like a win for Madden eSports and NFL Network by only getting 20% fewer viewers than ELEAGUE's Major.



EA Sports FIFA Paris Regionals (Photo: EA Sports)

The Paris Regional Finals for EA Sports FIFA 17 drew the most Media coverage as it would be not only be the 1st eSports program on ESPN's flagship channel but also directly against Super Bowl 51.

However it looks like the FIFA 17 tournament didn't match last years ESPN Super Bowl counter-programming against a Spike Lee special:

ESPN 2016 and 2017 Super Bowl Counter-Programming (Chart: The Next Level)

In addition, the FIFA 17 Paris Regional would have ranked #22 out of 24 when compared with the 2016 eSports programs on TV.

So is that a failure for FIFA?

Not at all. Again, still very early days and even with those low numbers still garnered 40%+ of the audience of ELEAGUE's biggest eSports event while going against the Super Bowl.

We've just started February and already have had 5 eSports programs on TV; not including what the Big Ten Network has aired already.


2017 is on pace to beat 2016's 20+ eSports programs on TV. Let's keep going.