What Can eSports Teach Traditional Sports About Engagement?

A woman playing eSports on the computers while wearing a headset.

Summer’s almost here, sports fans are getting vaccinated and stadiums are opening up more capacity every week. Relief is on the way for pent-up fans who miss their trips to the ballpark.

It’s tempting to put the pandemic out of sight and out of mind, but the sports industry really should spend some time thinking about how its customers have changed. And if sports execs aren’t paying serious attention to eSports — which rolled with the pandemic’s punches better than many businesses — they are at least a generation behind.

As competitive eSports gains credibility from mainstream names like Michael Jordan, Ashton Kutcher and Jerry Jones, it also gains attention from global investors and media outlets. Total eSports viewership is expected to double over a six-year period, according to Business Insider estimates, with a possible 2023 viewership of 646 million people in sight. What’s more, a Deloitte survey in April found that Generation Z shows such a strong preference for gaming, music and social media that if these preferences persist, the entertainment landscape will forever be changed. 

It’s easy to see traditional sports and entertainment companies in the same light as brick-and-mortar stores facing the early days of Amazon. And like those retailers faced, there are lessons to be learned from digital disruptors:

eSports is accessible. 

Yes, global sports leagues are reaching more audiences than ever, thanks to the growing popularity of streaming. But eSports has been able to stretch the bandwidth for consumers to have different experiences with the same content. Some fans come for funny streamers, some for the game, some for the events or tournaments, some for learning tactics; there’s something for everyone.

eSports is social.

Traditional sports may have provided a social aspect for many but eSports brings a new shade of color to interactivity. Using real-time engagement and personalization not only among individual fans but also among fans, streamers and players helps consumers feel more intimately connected to the game.

eSports is innovative.

Something that traditional sports has lacked for a long time is physical perspective while watching a game, whether that be in person or on TV. By implementing technologies such as AR and VR, eSports has helped the audience feel more engaged and as if they’re on the field with the players.

eSports uses storytelling.

People want to watch something that adds value to their lives. eSports has used storytelling to add deeper meaning to an event or experience and captivate an audience. It keeps them wanting more while humanizing the players — and the storylines — that will keep the fans coming back for more.

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While both traditional sports and eSports know that the athletes are the stars of the show, the audience ultimately holds all of the power, and paying attention to how the fans want to engage with their product will be the difference between winning and losing in the new digital economy. 

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