The First Universal Esports Metric Is Finally Here

TNL Take: Writing about the business of esports for 3 years now, if there’s 1 topic that I’ve covered the most is esports TV and digital viewership.

I was the first to start reporting esports TV viewership as far back as August 2016 - which was just ELEAGUE back then.


However, the data being reported for esports digital viewership drove me insane. Here are some numbers that publishers would report:

  • Peak Viewers

  • Total number of Views

  • Pigeons watching outside your window

  • Unique Users

  • Total Viewers

  • Aliens on UFO’s near Alpha Centauri

None of it made any sense and here’s how many times I’ve addressed this:

May 10, 2016: MLG vs. MLB (Where even Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said “eSports viewership is greater than the individual audiences for NHL, MLB, or the NBA”)

August 3, 2016: Turner Still Spins Final ELEAGUE Viewership Numbers

September 15, 2016: Call of Duty Real Esports Viewership

October 24, 2016: Sorry, Esports Viewership Doesn’t Equal Baseball or Hockey...Yet

March 9, 2017: Time To Kill The Esports Beats Sports Stat

November 27, 2017: How Many Viewers Watched The League Of Legends Championship? Not 60M.

Sites like Kotaku, ESPN and USA Today were also reporting ridiculous viewership data:

Image: Google

Image: Google

I’ve even lost track of how many times I’ve tweeted about this as well.

Is that enough?

Now that it’s 2019, things have changed right? Wrong. Here are just 3 headlines in the past few months:

April 14, 2019: CNBC: This esports giant draws in more viewers than the Super Bowl, and it’s expected to get even bigger

April 19, 2019: Dot Esports: Study shows esports close to surpassing Super Bowl in viewership numbers

August 12, 2019: CCN: Esports Is Outgrowing Traditional Sports, First The Super Bowl, Now Monetization

There were also these amazing charts:

Image: Casino.ca

Image: Casino.ca

Image: Activate Inc

Image: Activate Inc

But now like manna from heaven, we are finally getting to the first universal esports viewership metric: AMA (Average Minute Audience) or ACV (Average Concurrent Viewers). Recently, Riot Games, Activision-Blizzard, Faceit and ESL have all released AMA/ACV data for the first time.

I spoke with the following industry leaders to get further insight:

Nielsen: Nicole Pike, Managing Director Nielsen Esports

Stream Hatchet: Albert Alemany, CTO & Bobby Baird, Director of Strategic Partnerships

Blizzard: Kasra Jafroodi, Strategy and Analytics Lead

Riot Games: Doug Watson, Head of Esports Insights

(I also reached out to StreamMetrics and ESL for comment but did not hear back.)

MEASUREMENT

TNL: I’ve said for 3 years that Average Concurrent Viewers or Average Minute Audience should be the first universal metric for esports. What’s your position on this standard? 

Nielsen: AMA is a consistent and dependable metric for esports viewership. This is a standard we have presented to and encouraged the use of with our Esports Advisory Board members, and are actively working with multiple publishers (including Activision-Blizzard and Riot) and event operators (including ESL) to increase its use across the industry.  Based on the data currently available for esports viewership, AMA is the metric most closely comparable to television ratings, which is the standard advertisers and sponsors use for viewership measurement. Allowing easy comparability of esports to these other forms of entertainment content is critical in driving trust and transparency for the industry.

Stream Hatchet: We agree on using AVG CCV/AMA as the standard metric for streaming. Not only because it allows for an apples to apples comparison with TV, which helps bring more ad revenue, but also because it's the only accurate way to compare events that do not necessarily follow the same structure. While other metrics like Hours Watched can also be insightful to get a sense of the total impact of a channel, a game title, or an esports event, AMA is a metric that can be understood by everyone. 

Riot Games: We strongly advocate that AMA should be the first universal viewership metric; it’s understandable and helps simplify comparisons with linear formats. Industry standards are critical to unlocking accurate media valuations as this ecosystem continues to grow. Without universal standards, it’s challenging to have conversations with partners, sponsors, and investors who are interested in supporting esports. By promoting the use of AMA, we hope to improve the industry and create a rising tide that will raise all ships.

Activision-Blizzard: We completely agree. AMA is the most fair representation of viewership for all live content and it is directly comparable with traditional sport numbers. It’s extremely helpful to everyone in the ecosystem (brands, agencies, investors, and press) to truly understand how esports performs against everything else. 

TNL: How are you currently measuring AMA and at what intervals? 

Nielsen: We calculate AMA either by averaging time-stamped viewership (one-minute intervals are most preferred; no longer than five minute intervals are recommended to ensure data stability) over the course of a broadcast, or by dividing Total Minutes Watched by Total Minutes of Broadcast.

Stream Hatchet: Currently, we focus on Live Streamed AMA. All the major distributor platforms offer a way for measurement platforms to read at any given time what is the concurrent viewership of any channel that is broadcasting. We capture the concurrent viewership every minute for every channel that is streaming on any of the major platforms. To obtain the AMA of a specific channel or event we only need to average all the reads that we did for that channel across the corresponding period. 


TNL: What are the plans for Asia, particularly China?

Nielsen: We are definitely increasing our work and focus in Asia, of course China being part of this. One of the benefits of working with Nielsen is our ability to combine the local market expertise that comes with our global scale in our Sports and Brands businesses with the esports-specific knowledge of our Esports team. 

Stream Hatchet: While most international platforms outside of China will likely adopt similar measurement practices through concurrent sessions in order to land the same investment that western platforms are seeing, Chinese platforms are a different beast. Comparing a metric like Views from Twitch to YouTube Gaming is hard enough. One platform counts a view after 10 seconds, the other one counts a new channel view after 6 minutes. Comparing something like Hours Watched to a "Popularity Score" seems almost pointless when it's nearly impossible to understand how the score is calculated. 


RESULTS AND BRANDS

TNL: What have been the early results of publishing AMA data and brand reaction?

Activision-Blizzard: What has really stood out to us is how competitive we are with traditional sports when you look at the 18-34 demo. While traditional sports boast high overall numbers, when you actually narrow their audience down to the most valuable segment (18-34), you lose the majority of the audience.  The brand conversations couldn’t be going better. Everyone is very appreciative that they can finally get some numbers they can compare to their other investments. 

Riot Games: Brands that we’re working with have been great supporters of our push for better industry standards, more transparency into performance, and our ability to help guide their strategy on how to engage with esports fans today.  AMA is a metric that they are familiar with and can better translate to their internal KPIs and initiatives. Our brand conversations have been very positive.  A number of our partners have existing relationships or have worked with Nielsen in the past, which makes the results easy to integrate with their overall measurement systems and evaluate within their portfolio of sponsorships. Commitment to transparency has been a longstanding pillar of our sport. 

TNL: Has there been a specific metric or theme that stood out from this data?

Activision-Blizzard: We’re seeing that OWL’s regular season USA AMA of 55K is already beating some leagues in the USA like MLS and MLB. When you take into consideration that every league is declining in the 18-34 demo (while OWL is up 11 percent YoY), it won’t be long before OWL becomes one of the largest leagues in the US.

Riot Games: With Nielsen specifically, the key metrics they are measuring have been tied to media valuation and the performance of specific activations. Beyond that, our measurement and data has been tailored to support the initiatives of our partners. Each has a different goal and perspective on success and our aim is to help them evaluate that performance, as well as exceed it, by giving them the right tools and information.

AMA CHALLENGES

TNL: What do you see as the main hurdle to have AMA accepted across the major publishers, tournament operators, media companies and platforms alike?

Activision-Blizzard: People have to accept that these numbers are going to be lower than what has been previously reported (peaks, views, uniques) but they are much more accurate and representative of viewership. Esports doesn’t need to be bigger than the Super Bowl today and it doesn’t help anyone in the long term if we continue to push an inaccurate narrative.

Riot Games: Education. We need to share standards for what numbers mean, how they’re calculated, and how to interpret them. The faster we can do this, the faster everyone can get on the same page and facilitate better conversations, which will continue to grow the industry. The fans continue to grow, the events only become more spectacular and being able to express that in a meaningful way to non-endemics is the next step to take.


Thanks to everyone for participating and providing further insight into this metric. The one area that I would add as a hurdle - which can be easily addressed - is for research companies, publishers, tournament operators and brands to agree on one measurement for AMA/ACV/Whatever name.

From the garbage data we were seeing a few years back (and still seeing), has finally been addressed by the biggest players in the esports space and that is amazing progress.

Measuring The Quality Of Esports Viewership

Industry Guest Post: Kevin is the Chief Product Officer at Waypoint Media and in charge of all things data. Prior to Waypoint he was a Special Projects Engineer at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and most recently worked on the AppNexus data science team building revenue optimization algorithms. He can be reached at kevin@waypointmedia.com.


Esports audiences are simple: they’re young, growing, and most importantly — engaged. Given the nature of esports this has generally been taken at face value, however as the industry matures, sophisticated marketers will be looking to validate these assumptions.

Third party publications report viewership with two specific metrics: average concurrent viewers and viewer hours. Eagle eyed observers however will recognize that these strictly measure quantity — the volume of content consumed.

To measure engagement the real question is: how long are viewers actually staying?

Case Study — Overwatch League vs LCS

The launch of Overwatch League (OWL) has surpassed all expectations. The inaugural season of the OWL has been keeping pace and at times even outperforming Riot’s League Championship Series (LCS).

 

JUST THE BASICS

WP1.png

From March 8th, 2018 to March 22nd, 2018 the classic metrics show that 20% more content was consumed on the OWL channel compared to the LCS, by broadcasting an extra 10 hours, and having 10% higher average concurrent viewers.

OWL looks marginally better here but there’s almost no information about actual audience behavior with the basic viewership metrics.

 

ENGAGEMENT DISTRIBUTION

To answer the question of audience behavior and to look deeper into viewing habits, Waypoint tracks near minute to minute channel viewership on over 82 million unique registered Twitch viewers.

With this we analyze what each viewer is watching and for how long. Aggregated across all broadcast we generate the engagement distribution.

Viewers are watching 48% longer on OWL compared to the LCS
WP2.png

Applying this analysis to the OWL and LCS we see exactly how the audience is behaving during each league’s broadcasts — the results are staggering. OWL blows LCS out of the water and it’s not even close.

At the 50th percentile, viewers are watching 48% longer on the OWL compared to the LCS. Possibly even more impressive, 25% of OWL viewers are watching for at least 2.3 hours per broadcast.

 

CONCLUSION

The basic viewership metrics average concurrent viewers and viewer hoursare woefully insufficient in describing a live esports broadcast. A broadcast’sengagement distribution describes how that channel is able to retain its viewership over time.

Comparing OWL and LCS’s basic viewership data, it’s hard to tell how each broadcast is performing. The engagement distribution clearly shows that Overwatch League is outperforming the LCS in viewer retention.

OWL is shiny and new, so it’s hard to say whether or not they’ll be able to keep it up, but what they’ve done up to this point is incredibly impressive.

How Did Overwatch League Viewership Perform In Week 1?

TNL Take: It's only Week 1. It's only Week 1. It's only Week 1.

Repeat as necessary.

With so much money and hype riding on Overwatch League, how exactly did Week 1 perform from a viewership perspective?

Again, this doesn't take into account a slew of other Overwatch League monetization options like merchandise or in-game team skins but viewership only using the following methodology:

  • Twitch English stream for comparison
  • 2 Twitch viewership data sources (TwitchTracker and Waypoint Media)
  • Average Concurrent Viewership not Peak/Max
Overwatch League Week 1 Twitch Viewership (Chart: The Next Level)

Overwatch League Week 1 Twitch Viewership (Chart: The Next Level)

Again, it's only Week 1 so don't build a complex financial model on 4 data points but some potential insight:

  • Day 1: Saw some significant viewership with 300K+ concurrent viewers however will be difficult to maintain those numbers across the regular season
  • Day 4: With increased competition from other esports events and the NFL Playoffs, the average concurrent viewership had dropped to half of Day 1
  • With another few weeks of data, we'll be able to see if OWL can maintain their 150,000 concurrent viewership for the rest of the way - which would be good for the inaugural season

What gets really interesting is when you layer the next major esports event against Overwatch League.

TNL068.png
  • Day 3: With the start of ELEAGUE's Boston event, there may have been some migration of viewers from Overwatch to Counter-Strike
  • ELEAGUE performed well head-to-head considering the numerous hours that they were live

This is very early and will good to gauge other esports events for comparison as OWL moves through its season.

Week 2 will have an even bigger test for Overwatch League however with the start of the other franchised league - North America League of Legends this weekend.

Twitch Top 10: Week of December 11th

By Feature Writer Jordan Fragen

TNL Take: Welcome back! This is The Next Level’s take behind the key storylines behind the Top 10 Games on Twitch. Last week we looked at the reasons why fans flocked back to PUBG, the explosive growth in Hearthstone viewers after the release of the game’s latest expansion, and how CWL launched Call of Duty: WWII back into the top 10 for the first week since it launched in November.

Now, let’s explore the top headlines from the week of December 11th through the 17th.

Twitch Top 10 Week of Dec 11th: DotA 2, Overwatch and PUBG (Chart: Waypoint Media)

Twitch Top 10 Week of Dec 11th: DotA 2, Overwatch and PUBG (Chart: Waypoint Media)

Thank you once again to our data partner, Waypoint Media. They are the leader in esports and gaming audience data. They support clients like Nielsen in their efforts to understand the esports audience. Reach them at info@waypointmedia.com.


You Can Thank One of the Most Unique Tournaments in Esports for Dota 2’s Rise

Behind the scenes at the 8th Dota 2 Summit (Photo: Beyond the Summit)

Behind the scenes at the 8th Dota 2 Summit (Photo: Beyond the Summit)

Dota 2’s community continues to be one of the most unique in esports. Despite the attention the International brings every July, the game tends to remain in League of Legends’ shadow for the rest of the year, particularly when it comes to viewership on Twitch. It also remains uniquely dominated by international viewership as we pointed out in a previous Twitch Top 10.

However, this week saw a modest rise in hours and placement for Valve’s MOBA. Compared to the previous week, Dota 2 saw a 6% increase in Total Hours Watched and moved up a place. More importantly, there was a 231% increase in Peak Viewership and an 85% increase in Unique Viewers reached from last week.

So where did this influx of new viewers come from?

This weekend saw the 8th installment of the DOTA Summit from organizers Beyond the Summit. Rather than mimic the glitz and stadium-filling crowds esports has grown used to, BtS bucks this trend and instead holds all of their tournaments in a house with all players sleeping over. The goofiness doesn’t stop there. In addition to hard hitting esports action, fans are treated to skits and board games featuring their favorite players.

This unique take on an esports tournament serves to better humanize the players and show of their personalities. The numbers add support to this, showing the power this format has to draw in casual fans.

 

Overwatch Draws Fans Back After the Preseason Exodus

Overwatch League's Preseason drew viewers to Activision-Blizzard owned MLG.tv (Photo: OWL)

Overwatch League's Preseason drew viewers to Activision-Blizzard owned MLG.tv (Photo: OWL)

In a move that surprised almost no one, Blizzard has decided to remain protective of the Overwatch League and only air OWL games on Activision-Blizzard owned MLG.tv for the preseason. While this move makes tracking accurate data for the preseason games (and presumably the season once it starts) difficult, we can extrapolate how successful Blizzard was in migrating the audience over to its other platforms based on this week’s Twitch data.

Compared to last week, Overwatch saw a 21% increase in Total Hours Watched, a 12% increase in Hours Streamed, a stunning 325% increase in peak concurrents, a 110% increase in Unique viewers and a marginal 4% increase in hours consumed per unique viewer. The only stat that fell was average concurrent viewers (a drop of 43%) presumably due to viewers spreading out their viewing across multiple channels.

While it will be difficult to quantify just how many viewers Blizzard managed to drive to MLG.tv, the trends clearly point to a massive surge in viewership back to Twitch now that there is a lull in OWL content.

 

PUBG’s Biggest Star is Taking a Break. Has His Absence Affected Viewership?

Dr. Disrespect's Indefinite Absence Could Have Lasting Consequences on PUBG Viewership (Photo: Aftonbladet)

Dr. Disrespect's Indefinite Absence Could Have Lasting Consequences on PUBG Viewership (Photo: Aftonbladet)

Last week, PUBG managed to reclaim some of its dominance in the Battle Royale genre. With newcommer Fortnite looking to innovate in the nascent genre, PUBG needed new content to reignite viewer interest.

With the new desert map and the soft launch onto Xbox One, PUBG managed to reclaim some ground in the on-going Battle Royale war. However, fans were hit with a bombshell this week that could see long lasting consequences in Twitch viewership.

Dr. Disrespect shocked fans this week by streaming out of character, admitting to marital infidelity and announcing a break from streaming to work on these problems.

With the game’s biggest star out of the running, how did it affect PUBG’s viewership?

PUBG saw a 16% decrease in Total Hours Watched this week but saw a huge increase of 69% in Unique Viewers Reached. While Shroud continues to be the go-to streamer for PUBG, Dr. Disrespect drove over 400K Hours watched and over 690K unique viewers.

 

So for now, the answer seems to be no but next week will more accurately foreshadow the impact of the Doc’s absence from the scene.