2017 Collegiate eSports Report


Blizzard's College eSports Documentary (Photo: Blizzard)

TNL Take: One of the first major eSports opportunities that I analyzed was the Collegiate space.

In fact, way back in The Next Level 008 in May, I looked at the various verticals in this area.

Just like all aspects of eSports, in the last 5 months this space has grown just as quickly.

I'm going to revisit some of my earlier themes and look and what's happened to College eSports in such a short period.



TNL Infographic 010: Total US Schools With eSports Scholarships (Graphic: The Next Level)

TNL Take: What started with just Robert Morris University in 2014 has now grown to 15 Schools in 2016 that have announced eSports scholarships programs that have either started or in process to begin for the 2017 school year.

The hockey stick like growth correlates almost exactly with the investment of Pro Sports teams within eSports as well.

In May, the total was 9 schools with ~120 Max Scholarships - excuse the horrible original graphic.

Colleges With eSports Scholarships In May 2016 (Graphic: The Next Level 008)

Now look at this change in less than half a year.



15 US Schools Offering eSports Scholarships

15 US Schools Offering eSports Scholarships

TNL Take: Top takeaways from the new data:

  • The total number of schools giving monetary scholarships for eSports has almost doubled from 9 to 15


  • The maximum number of scholarships available has almost tripled from 120 to ~300 (Note: While these scholarships are available, schools will more than likely not fill all the spots due to recruiting issues. Yes, recruiting issues in eSports already.)



TNL Take: You can take the power of the Publishers in eSports and apply it across the board. 

For a long time, just as Publishers let Pro eSports provide them with Free Marketing, the same applied to the Collegiate space.

Now that serious money has entered eSports, those days are over.

Here are two examples of where Publishers have flexed their muscles:


Here's what I said back in May The Next Level 008:

"If I’m Riot, I double-down on this opportunity to work growing this scene even further. From their investment in ULoL, working with colleges directly, and supporting local University Cal Irvine, they seem to be heading in this direction."

I'm hoping that someone at Riot actually listened.

When you're in the Church of Content, the Priest is the Publisher.



Newegg College eSports Sponsorship (Photo: Newegg)

TNL Take: The next massive opportunity within Collegiate eSports is connecting Brands to a core audience of 18-22 year olds; right when they begin to earn money and spend it more freely.

Again in May, I spoke about Robert Morris University leading the Collegiate eSports initiative and where Brands like Quest Nutrition could benefit from this audience.

Guess what happened two months ago?

Quest Nutrition and RMU eSports Partnership (Photo: Quest)

Many more Brands have noticed the Collegiate eSports audience:


TNL eSports Brand Tracker 044 (Photo: Battlefy)

Although I focus on Non-Endemic Brands within eSports, a huge congrats to iBUYPOWER for helping to support the Collegiate eSports efforts.

Not only did they support RMU's initial eSports endeavor, they are also sponsoring the first public US School with an eSports Scholarship program, UC Irvine.

iBUYPOWER UC Irvine eSports Arena (Photo: UC Irvine)



NRG eSports Recruiting Partnership With Gamer Sensei (Photo: Gamer Sensei)

TNL Take: I absolutely believe in the coaching opportunity for eSports - I just haven't solved it yet.  

With the same progression of traditional Sports through Junior Leagues, High School, Colleges and then Professional Leagues, you can see eSports take the same route.

In my May articles, I mentioned both Dojo Madness and Xsolla, training and coaching Apps that help players turn into Athletes.

If a local Tennis or Golf Pro can have clients, eSports can't for the next decade?

It's going to happen somehow.

I'm a big fan of quotes because I believe someone long ago and  a lot smarter than me already succinctly said what I could have.

Albert Szent-Györgyi was a Hungarian American physiologist who won the Nobel Prize in 1937 is credited with discovering vitamin C. He said the following:

"Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and think what nobody has thought.Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no one else has thought.

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.The task is, not so much to see what no one has seen yet; but to think what nobody has thought yet, about what everybody sees."

Pro eSports starts with High Schools and Colleges.


Lets all build it.


Big thanks and huge help from James Kozachuk (@InternallyValid) for his work and dedication to the space. We need more people like James in this space. Someone please hire him....or I will soon.

Call Of Duty eSports Real Viewership


Call of Duty XP 2016 (Photo: MLG)

TNL Take: Last Sunday, Activision held their massive Call of Duty XP Event at the Forum in Ingelwood showcasing the Call of Duty World League Championship.

Activision has made a slew of Media hires over the past year, with Executives from ESPN, NFL, Univision and Fox Sports. I've already covered CEO Bobby Kotick's vision for estimated revenue derived from eSports Media rights.

After spending millions on the event - I know what it costs to just get Snoop and Wiz to perform - Activision released Viewership data.

Let's take a look at what the PR really meant.

Call of Duty 2016 Champions Team EnVyUs (Photo: MLG)


It sure as hell better have been.

This boils down to two reasons.

If you believe in the growth of eSports, there should be a natural, linear increase in Media consumption. So that's easy.

The second factor is more important: Distribution.

Prior to Activision's purchase of Major League Gaming, Call of Duty was only on the MLG.tv platform which wasn't close to Twitch in scale.

Now add Twitch + YouTube + PS4 In Game Viewer + MLG.tv and it's just math on why viewership is higher.



Vanity Metric #1 and see point /01.



Vanity Metric #2.



Ok now we're getting somewhere.

In one of the first things I wrote back in May in The Next Level 005, I analyzed Activision/MLG's Counter-Strike Event against MLB's Opening Day. In that analysis, I used 50% for International audience %:

MLG vs. MLB (Photo: The Next Level)

Granted that's Counter-Strike and Call of Duty definitely skews more US; but the ~50% International Audience is a fair baseline overall. One of the Finals teams, Splyce, also came through via the EU side.

Outside of verifying my own estimates, I was befuddled why Activision would make that figure public. It essentially says that at least half their viewing audience is useless to US Brands.

Then it hit me. 

Broadcast rights. 

If Drone Racing League can get a $1M investment from Sky and also be shown on ESPN, how much is Call of Duty World League worth to just one European broadcaster like Ginx?

I need to dig deeper on that.

Also, I covered why I believe eSports is currently a greater Media opportunity - and will also be going forward - vs. Drone Racing in The Next Level 026.

Now I get some data.



Obviously Activision didn't release these figures but I'm going to give them to you.

I've talked ad nauseum about why "Average Concurrent Viewers" is the best true measure of Viewership but here's the first overview if needed.

As I mentioned, the Championship Event was broadcast on multiple platforms but I'm only going to use Twitch to get a relatively fair comparison against Turner's E LEAGUE.

My Twitch data for the Championship Grand Finals maxed at 128K, which is inline with this Reddit user's data on multiple platforms showing 132K on Twitch.

Call of Duty Championship Streaming Viewership (Photo: Reddit)

Based on my same Twitch data, the Average Concurrent Viewers for the Grand Finals was actually 62K.

Now here's the interesting part when you compare that figure against E LEAGUE:

E LEAGUE Season 1 Twitch Viewership (Graphic: The Next Level)

E LEAGUE's Finals, which were not only broadcast on Twitch but also Twitter and TBS on a Saturday afternoon, did almost double the viewership of Call of Duty's Grand Finals.

Overall, I'm going to spend more time looking into Activision further because there's one thing that's striking to me:


You're starting to see the early transformation of Activision eSports from a Marketing vehicle to a Media platform.


If you don't believe me watch Moneyball again.

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick in Moneyball (Photo: Columbia Pictures)

Activision’s eSports Brand Challenge


(Photo: MLG)

(Photo: MLG)

In a recent article on VentureBeat titled “eSports’ Ticket To Going Mainstream: Big Brands, Bigger Audience focused on a conversation with VP of Activision-Blizzard Media Networks Mike Sepso at GamesBeat 2016.

There were a few points that I thought were interesting.

/01 “We’ve done some research recently that shows that, in the U.S., only about 15 percent of consumers are even aware of esports. But that 15 percent is probably watching hours of it every week.

I’m guessing that more than likely references Newzoo’s data report showing eSports awareness levels globally — but you already know how I feel about these types of reports.

(Photo: Newzoo)

(Photo: Newzoo)

With awareness levels so low, that shows a large potential runway for eSports in the US.

If 15% are only aware in 2016, I’m not sure why he would believe in 2013 at the very same GamesBeat conference that MLG alone would be bigger than the NHL by 2015

We all know how that turned out as the NHL generated ~$4B in 2015 and MLG was sold to Activision for $47M.

(Source: The Next Level)

(Source: The Next Level)

The second part around hours consumed is absolutely true and probably the #1 metric that most Brands and Agencies I speak with get the most excited about.


eSports has a audience that consumes a massive amount of content.


Now we just need to scale that in the US.


/02 “They were watching eSports, not basketball [NCAA Tournament]”

He was referring to MLG’s Counter-Strike Tournament in Columbus back in April which was happening during the same time as the NCAA Tournament.

Who would take the time to analyze TV and eSports ratings at 3:42AM while waiting for Frank Ocean to drop his new album and loving every minute of it?


This guy.


It wasn’t too hard because I already did this THE NEXT LEVEL 005 back in May.

The thing is, during MLG’s event — there wasn’t a NCAA Tournament game on

Unless it was the Women’s Championship game.


I thought a better comparison was MLB’s Opening Day game between the Cardinals and Pirates on ESPN. I’ve covered plenty of times why Total Consumed Minutes/Event Time is the best gauge of actual eSports Viewership but there’s no way Activision is going to release that data so let’s just use the 2nd best metric of Average Concurrent Viewers (ACV).

(Source:  The Next Level )

(Source: The Next Level)

(Source:  The Next Level )

(Source: The Next Level)

Even haircutting my estimate further, that’s a pretty strong showing against MLB's Opening Day game.

As I said previously, it’s a great opportunity for Brands to invest in eSports especially based on the Advertising ROI and eSports median age — although that figure ranges as high as 32 as well:

Activision can boast engagement and user numbers as much as they want but there’s a simple reason why Activision/MLG has failed to deliver any Non-Endemic Brand Advertisers:


Activision/MLG’s eSports content is currently all First-Person Shooters.


Let me break down the past 10 months of activity and the Non-Endemic Brands they’ve delivered:


Oct 2015: Activision announces new eSports group led former CEO of ESPN Steve Bornstein and MLG Co-Founder Mike Sepso

Jan 2016: Activision Buys MLG

Apr 2016: MLG Columbus with Counter-Strike: 0

May 2016: Activision-Blizzard Media Networks IAB Upfront

May 2016: MLG Arena with Counter-Strike: 0

Jun 2016: MLG Anaheim Open with Call of Duty: 0 (Presented by Playstation)

July 2016: MLG Arena with Gears of War NA Open: 0

Aug 2016: MLG Orlando with Call of Duty: 0 (Presented by Playstation)


And the upcoming $1,000,000 Gears of War eSports league?

(Photo: Microsoft)

(Photo: Microsoft)


Sponsored by Microsoft, MLG and Gfinity

[Although I will have something shortly on why Microsoft throwing money at eSports is one of the smartest moves ever.]

Sure the next Call of Duty may have a Doritos or Mountain Dew or even a QSR Sponsorship but it’s had that for years. For Call of Duty to be associated with a Toyota or State Farm or AT&T is going to take a lot of effort.

The next thing is that no one watches Gears of War.

This is from this past Sunday’s NA Open:


Don’t worry about Activision though.

I left out the B’s:


Bottom line is Blizzard is the Brand Bonanza.


If anyone’s going to bring Brand dollars to Activision-Blizzard it’s going to be the 2nd half of the company name based on one thing alone: Overwatch.

Running against the same MLG Gears of War NA Open was this Overwatch event:


Overwatch will be the next big eSport game and you can reference this article a year from now. 


Ill even repeat it.

Overwatch will be the hottest new eSport title if not already.

Overwatch will be the hottest new eSport title if not already.

Overwatch will be the hottest new eSport title if not already.


Further, when I looked at Overwatch in THE NEXT LEVEL 007, it had 5 Brand Partnerships prior or during launch with Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Dolby, Uber and Razer.


[Yes, all of this will be added to THE NEXT LEVEL Brand Tracker 😎 ]


That’s just 1 title in Blizzard’s arsenal and we haven’t even talked about Hearthstone’s massive potential and their Geico association and Heroes of the Storm, which Blizzard could easily market via Collegiate eSports.


But maybe the Blizzard side of the Brand business is being handled by a whole other group?


There is one comment made that wasn’t really picked up that I believe is a big new opportunity for Brands. 

I’ll talk about that soon.