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.

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.

Time To Kill The "eSports Beats Sports Viewers" Stat


No eSports Isn't Beating The NBA In Viewers (Graphic: Riot)

TNL Take: If you read any Mainstream Media article on eSports, it pretty much starts like this:

Part 1: What’s eSports? It’s kids playing video games and getting paid for it. Can you believe it!

Part 2: Insert latest SuperData or Newzoo - nothing against those companies - projections on market size and revenue estimates.

Part 3: More people watched League of Legends than [Insert Sport of your choice]

For those that don’t know anything about eSports, the first two parts are totally fine for a new audience – although you know my thoughts on eSports projections.

 It’s Part 3 that I have the biggest issue with. Why?

Because it’s completely wrong.

Go ahead and Google “League of Legends beats NBA Finals” and see the results you get. I’ll even make it easier for you, here are the first four:

Results For "League of Legends Beats NBA Finals" (Photo: Google)

Now those aren’t just tiny gaming sites or some random blogs – is that term still used? – no, these are national if not international media organizations.



USA Today's League of Legends Headline (Photo: USA Today)



ESPN's League of Legends Headline (Photo: USA Today)


Kotaku's League of Legends Headline (Photo: USA Today)


Why would large media companies make statements like these?

Simple: It makes a great headline… and they don’t understand eSports metrics.

Here’s the reality.



When reporting on any TV or sports viewership data – be it the NFL or Mr. Robot – there’s a standard metric that’s been used for a very long time: Nielsen.

Nielsen’s viewership data is based on the “average” number of viewers who watched the entire program or event. It’s not the total viewers in the first hour, the last hour or even the maximum during one particular moment – it’s the average over the whole game.

Here are the Nielsen numbers for the most recent 2016 Sports Championships or Finals:

2016 Sports Championships and Finals Nielsen Ratings (Chart: The Next Level)


So does Nielsen measure eSports?

It’ doesn’t.

That’s why most reported eSports viewership data is all over the place: Maximum concurrent users, total minutes consumed, most social posts, engagement metrics, tickets sold, number of hot dogs consumed, etc.

So you can’t really compare Sports TV content with digital eSports content.

Yet the media still does.



Here’s a little secret that pretty much only people who work in the industry know: depending on the eSports game, the international viewership could be anywhere from 25% up to 75%.

The Nielsen viewer numbers don’t count how many people in the Ukraine watched the NBA Finals. It's only US viewers.  But eSports viewership data is global.

Another reason you can’t compare TV Sports vs. digital eSports.



The reality is that it’s really hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison between Sports and eSports viewership.

But I’m going to show you what I think is closer to reality.

There is always one stat that gets used for the #1 eSports game in the world: League of Legends. The headlines are usually “League of Legends Beats/More/Watched than [Insert Sport Here]”.

So let’s try to get this as close to Nielsen metrics as we possible can for some comparison:


  • The 2016 League of Legends Finals had a peak of 14.7M viewers.  That means at one given moment, ~15M people were watching. I’ll be very generous and let’s assume that the PEAK viewers was the actual AVERAGE over the entire game.


  • The Finals were between two South Korean teams – SKT and Samsung Galaxy. I’ll be very generous again and say that 50% of the US watched - but it’s probably much lower.


Taking those 3 factors into account, the relevant “Nielsen eSports Viewership” for the 2016 League of Legends Finals would be 7M – NOT 43M.


So has a League of Legends Finals ever beat the NBA Finals, The World Series or any other Sport in viewership?

Here’s how they stack up based on 2016:

2016 US Viewers: Sports vs. LoL (Source: The Next Level   Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

As you can see, eSports viewership as a whole in the US has a while to go to catch up to other sports.

Before the hate mail starts pouring in, what does this actually mean?

  • Is League of Legends over? No.
  • Is eSports a lie? No.
  • Is eSports dead? No.

Does eSports have a future? YES.

 As I’ve said many times “I don’t care about the next 12 months – I care about the next 12 years”.

I want to see eSports flourish, implement a healthy infrastructure and an ecosystem where players, teams and publishers can all benefit.  I hope that everyone from billionaires to sports teams to venture capitalists don’t expect The Next Big Thing tomorrow.  There's a massive global opportunity ahead.


Let’s not burst the bubble before we’ve even started

eSports Week In Review and 50+ Brands Update


The Netherlands National eSports League (Photo: Eredivisie)

TNL eSports Podcast 014 (Photo: The Next Level)


2017: 5 Endemic Brand Deals

I've also updated the 2016: (now) 50+ Non-Endemic Brand list which includes the following Brands and apologies for the initial omission:

  • Brisk Mate
  • Lyft
  • Best Buy
  • Wal-Mart
  • Totino's

Also as promised, here are 3 different ways to get a high res version of the 2016 eSports and Non-Endemic Brand List:

TNL.MEDIA: TNL Infographic 023: 2016 50+ Non-Endemic Brands

IMGUR: 2016: 50+ Non-Endemic Brands

SLIDESHARE: 2016: 50+ Non-Endemic Brands

2016 50+ Non-Endemic Brands eSports Investment (Infographic: The Next Level)

Is It Time To Pay Attention To VR In eSports (Photo: HTC)

TNL eSports Industry Guest Podcast 002 (Photo: The Next Level)

TNL eSports Brand Tracker 003: McDonald's and EA Madden NFL (Photo: EA Sports)