BLOG | by Lance Fraenkel

Overwatch giving traditional sports run for their money – but fans see limits to integration

We reported a month or so ago how, among US audiences familiar with the property, Overwatch League was scoring right up there with established sports on our Word of Mouth metric (what have you spoken about in the past couple of weeks?). Take a look at our chart below, which shows the property peaking while the competition’s finals took place.

Now, Overwatch isn’t nearly as widely known as the NFL (to pick one established sport), but what this chart may give us is a glimpse into the future of esports – one where once they become more familiar to the general public, esports begin to give traditional sports a run for their money.

It’s a vision of the future that many in established sports have already bought into, with the NFL, NBA and MLS already building esports brands to buttress their on-field offerings. And many esports fans are firmly on board – our data tells us that 17% of them believe that video games should be taken just as seriously as football, baseball and the rest.

There’s certainly a virtuous circle – we know, for example, that NBA fans are almost twice as likely to be aware of the league’s esport partner, NBA 2K, than the general public. They are also more than twice as likely to have a positive impression of the video game.

And in general there is no divide between esports fans and fans of America’s big four sports. A fan of traditional sports is just as likely (and sometimes more likely) to have a positive view of esports including Fortnite, Overwatch and NBA 2K. There’s no ‘them and us’ when it comes to sports and esports.

But while the smart money may well be on the mainstreaming of video gaming into US sports culture – and on the co-opting of esports ‘cool’ by brands and rights holders – most Americans also recognize that esports is not yet ready for the global Olympics stage.

When it comes to being part of the Olympic program, as the IOC is exploring, only one in five esports fans believe video gaming should be included. Amongst the general public, that figure falls to just 13%. For the time being at least, it feels like the integration of esports and traditional sports has its limits – even if they have not yet been fully explored.


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Lance joined SMG Insight in 2017 as Vice President for North America. Having previously worked for YouGov, Lance has over ten years’ experience in the market research products industry, beginning as an analyst within the consumer division and advancing to the role of Head of Client Management for North America. Lance has successfully developed talent and led large cross-functional teams, consulting with a broad range of clients including Google, NBC, VISA, Bank of America, Omnicom Media Group and Twitter. Lance is a graduate of New York’s Cornell University.



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