What Does Esports "Success" Look Like For Sports Leagues

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

I can guarantee you this: The five major U.S. sports leagues and the respective game publishers will see tremendous success as a result of their upcoming esports league journeys.

How to measure that success in the mid to long-term is obvious - increased game sales, sponsorship dollars, in-game purchases, viewership numbers, ticket sales, etc.

But how to evaluate in the short-term? What will set the table for long-term prosperity?

One measurement I use with many of the start-ups I’ve worked with lies in answering this one question:

“If you could caption one photo ‘Success’ (in this case, ‘Esports Success’), in your Instagram feed 2–3 years from now, what would that photo look like?”

For the sports video games and their leagues, the expected answer would be something along the lines of a photo of a rowdy, packed-to-the-brim stadium for an esports event or a capture of a headline outlining 2K’s micro transactions windfall.

But while each would be great, I strongly believe they may be too shortsighted.

I believe the photo mock-up below of a father and son in their respective Knicks/Knicks Gaming jerseys is the ideal “success” story:


At first glance, you may think I’m crazy. The father and son aren’t even at an event. There aren’t any sponsors. There are only two people.

But the simplicity of this photo best illustrates what’s fueled every major success in sports — from Super Bowl LII, to $12 billion baseball broadcast deals, to $100 million player contracts — and that’s 2 words:

Shared experiences.

  • You want sponsorship dollars, focus on shared experiences.
  • You want a spike in game downloads and in-game purchases, focus on shared experiences.
  • You want viewers and increased loyalty, focus on shared experiences.

While the phrase may be cliché to some in traditional sports marketing, it may be unfamiliar yet more important to many in esports.

Bottom line, shared experiences drive revenues.

For example, nine hypotheticals looking at that photo:

  1. Isn’t that dad more prone to buying his kid a Knicks Gaming jersey versus an Overwatch jersey come birthday present time? Even if the kid spends more time playing Overwatch.
  2. Come tomorrow morning, isn’t that kid more likely to share with his dad NBA 2K League highlights than League of Legends highlights?
  3. Will that dad ignore his kid’s in-game purchases on his credit card because he’s a Knicks fan too? 
  4. Won’t that dad be more excited to take his kid to a game at Madison Square Garden, knowing that it’s also the home of the Knicks Gaming team? That kid will be more excited to go too.
  5. Won’t that dad be more proud to tell his New York City co-workers that his son is draft eligible by the Knicks gaming team than the Rocket League team? And thus encourage him to play more NBA2K.
  6. Won’t that kid go to the local restaurant/bar with his dad to watch both the Knicks NBA game and the Knicks NBA2K game on TVs side-by-side?
  7. That dad will surely attend the NBA 2K League finals with his Knicks jersey and his kid.
  8. When that kid isn’t sure if he should use his allowance to buy Overwatch or the NBA 2K League update, which do you think his dad will recommend?
  9. Won’t that dad be more apt to tell other parents the experience he’s had with NBA2K rather than another game like Fortnite - which his kid loves?

So what does all this mean?

Put best by Brian Solis, author of The End of Business As Usual:

“This is the time to define an experience, what it should be, what it should feel like, what it should evoke. Because, if you’re not creating the experiences you want people to have and share, then your brand and the impressions that are formed as a result are theirs to define.”

What success looks like for the five major sports leagues and the game publishers starts with what shared experiences look like. In these early days of esports for sports leagues, we have the opportunity to focus on getting these shared experiences right.

MLS and EA Sports Launch Esports League eMLS

TNL Take: Welcome to the next round of sports leagues looking to integrate esports.

On Friday, Major League Soccer and EA Sports announced a partnership to form the eMLS, with 19 of the 23 MLS Clubs participating. If this sounds similar to NBA 2K League - it is - in a good way.

MLS now joins other traditional sports leagues like France's eLeague 1 and the Dutch Eredivisie which have both incorporated esports.

The 19 clubs that will participate in the inaugural season of the eMLS include: 

Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, Minnesota United FC, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

19 of the 23 Clubs in the eMLS (Photo: MLS)

19 of the 23 Clubs in the eMLS (Photo: MLS)

Even more interesting is that each eMLS club will only sponsor one Pro to represent the organization. While the announcement was fairly sparse on the operations of the league it leaves some open questions currently which will  be taken care of by launch.

What about the other 4 teams?

It's unsure why 4 of the clubs would not participate as this would have provided full participation of MLS teams similar to other national leagues.

How will the Pro's be selected?

While the NBA 2K League has a uniform set of rules on drafting, becoming part of the team, etc., eMLS teams are allowed their own process for selecting their representative. For example, instead of competing in the club's qualifying tournament, a team can sign their own FIFA Pro and field them for eMLS like the New York Red Bulls.

NY Red Bulls FIFA Pro Mike Labelle (Photo: NY Post)

NY Red Bulls FIFA Pro Mike Labelle (Photo: NY Post)

How will the Pro's be paid?

Still TBD but would expect a minimum yearly commitment ala NBA 2K League.

What console will they be playing on?

Still TBD as well.

What's very unique is that all of FIFA 18 esports - whether another national league or a 3rd party event (ESL/Gfnity) - will now feed directly into the FIFA eWorld Cup. This is a fantastic move by EA Sports and the MLS as every competitive aspect funnels into the finals.

This announcement also comes on the heels of MLS's announcement that they were looking for an esports Manager and can imagine this would fall under their purview.

The first eMLS event, the eMLS Cup, will take place during PAX East 2018 in April with the winner earning a guaranteed playoff spot.