Females: The Hidden eSports Audience - Part 1

Females: The Hidden eSports Audience - Part 1

CS:GO Women Tournament At ESWC (Photo: ESWC)

CS:GO Women Tournament At ESWC (Photo: ESWC)

TNL Take: I've been in the Gaming industry for over a decade now and there's a phrase that still hasn't gone away: "Boys In The Basement".

It's the continued stereotype that gamers are just kids drinking Dew and screaming MOM from the bottom floor.

Yet 75% of Xbox owners are of legal drinking age - as is the eSports audience - and almost half of them make $100,000+. 51% of Xbox owners have kids.

Those aren't boys.

While this stereotype will hopefully change with the continued growth and investment within eSports, there's another stereotype that could be potentially worse: Women don't play or watch video games.

Which couldn't be further from the truth.

IEM Kotawice (Photo: ESL)

A few years back, the IAB released a study that said that women made up 52% of the gaming audience, up from 49% from 2 years prior.

6 years ago when I led Brand Advertising for Social Gaming company Zynga, I said "the 40 year old Mom is the new hardcore gamer".

All the data is there yet females participating within eSports and from an audience perspective are still minimized.

2017 is the year this will start to change.

/01 The Female eSports Audience

What's the real Female eSports audience? I analyzed 8 different research studies and found the following:

The Female Audience In eSports (Infographic: The Next Level)

By the end of 2017, the Female eSports audience could be almost 30% of the total.

/02 Overwatch Will Help

Stephanie "missharvey" Harvey (Photo: Intel)

The other day I was eating at a local NYC chain that's one of those "yoga-pants-and-quinoa" joints (I was literally the only one not coming from yoga apparently).

As I began to dig into my organic chicken and kale, I overheard the table of 4 women next to me chatting about the latest Overwatch patch.

I was floored.

Naturally I began talking to them about why they liked Overwatch.  Outside of the main reason being it's a fun game to play; Overwatch's graphics are uniquely suited for the Female aesthetic.

As almost all Female-only teams are primarily First Person Shooters - Call of Duty or Counter-Strike - I'd look to Overwatch to continue to drive Female engagement and viewership within eSports.


/03 Female Only Leagues

IEM Katowice Female Only Tournament (Photo: ESL)

  • Commentator Jennifer Pichette started an all Female Call of Duty League
  • YouTuber Zoie Burgher is starting her own Female eSports team
  • Missharvey is the founder of all Female team CLG Red, which is part of Counter Logic Gaming
  • Skylla is a 7-tournament Counter-Strike league which includes both Male and Female teams

However I'm not sure this is the answer.

In 2013, ESPN said the majority of the WNBA audience - 66% - was Men. The WNBA may not have even survived this long without significant investment from the NBA.

The most recent Women's World Cup Final between the US and Japan was watched by 61% Men.


/04 What's The Answer?

I wish life was that simple, that black and white. But it's not.

I'm not sure if there is a simple answer but I believe 2 things are critical:

Visibility: Maya Moore, considered to be the current Michael Jordan of the WNBA who also happens to be sponsored by Brand Jordan, wrote a great article on Women in Sports titled (In)Visibility

She writes that her exposure at UConn winning 2 National Championships in 4 years was significantly greater than after she went #1 in the WNBA draft and continued her career there.


Marketing: Just look at the visuals or the Rap-Rock/Hip-Hop track used in Video Game commercials and you can see they're clearly marketing to the Male audience - although it's estimated that women make up a higher % of the game playing audience and definitely on Mobile.

To keep and grow the Female game playing and viewing audience, the Marketing at its core needs to change.

I still think this Gears of War commercial featuring a cover of Tears For Fears "Mad World" by Gary Jules is one of the best ever made and easily appeals to both sexes.

/05 Female Focused Brands

The 50 Brands That Invested In eSports In 2016 (Graphic: The Next Level)

Last week I released the 50 Non-Endemic Brands that invested in eSports in 2016.

While there are some brands that appeal to both sexes - it's primarily Male driven Brands.

I believe that 2017 will see the first of hopefully many Female focused Brands enter eSports.

And if there's 1 Brand I want to see invest - it's Dove. They're forward thinking and I love their theme of "real beauty". 


In Part 2, I'll have a chat with 2 Women in the space from 2 different sides of the Gaming and eSports spectrum.

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.