It’s well-documented that esports attract a large, growing and dedicated following. But to great swathes of the population, the sector still remains something of a mystery. To see what we mean, take a look at top of mind Awareness in the US of esports compared to that of an average of the major professional leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.)
This data tells us more than just the relative awareness of the esports sector – it also signposts its potential. Because, as generations of esports players age, and assuming esports retain their popularity, awareness will naturally grow. To illustrate our point, let’s look at the same metric but filtering to see only 18-34 year-olds. You’ll observe that Awareness leaps up, almost doubling in size, while the other column shrinks.
But the curious challenge which esports face compared to traditional sports is increasing the loyalty of fans. The graph below charts how much fans of the same pastimes would recommend each sport (so how much football fans would recommend football, hockey fans would recommend hockey etc). As you can see, it shows that that esports fan are much less likely to recommend esports than fans of other sports are to recommend their sports.
Why is this?
Well, it’s likely that the lack of familiar sporting structures plays a role here. For example, geographic ties are a strong factor in traditional sporting loyalty, something which exists only to a limited extent in esports.
The social bonds provided by traditional sports – created by showing up to games, watching sport on TV with family and friends, consuming mainstream media coverage – are also not yet as strongly formed in esports. That may mean that fans don’t feel that it’s worth recommending esports to others – would they understand? Our awareness data suggests that a good many, particularly in older generations, wouldn’t.
So one big question for the future of the sector is how do we build the Recommend score for esports? Well, building ‘home’ venues like that which Overwatch League franchise, the Philadelphia Fusion, should soon enjoy is likely to build geographical identities for teams – and increase a sense of loyalty.
But a tougher challenge altogether will be bringing esports into the mainstream. And while that may be the aim for many administrators, for some players and fans, it is precisely the counter-cultural aspect of esports which they find appealing. If organisers can figure this out, they will be a long way down the path to rivalling the market share of traditional sports.
Next time, we’ll take a look at how some of the characteristics of esports fans and players differ from those of the general public.
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Photo Overwatch League