PCR’s March gaming & esports roundtable with Toby Roberts and Mike Hart

Big strides are being made in the esports and gaming industries. We spoke with UK e-tailer of tech products’ BOX’s Marketing Manager, Mike Hart and Toby Roberts, co-owner of Wired2Fire, an independent retailer to find out more.

Here’s what Mike Hart, BOX’s Marketing Manager and co-owner of Wired2Fire had to say.

Mike Hart

 

Toby-Roberts, Director at Wired2Fire

What would you say is the current state of the esports market?

Mike Hart, Box: “The esports industry continues to grow at significant pace, growing on average by 8.5% per year. Various Lockdowns across the world have further accelerated its growth through booming viewership figures and greater buy-in from traditional professional sports associations. As the demand for competitive esports content grows and with the emergence of new teams, the opportunity for resale into this market grows too. Not just in the physical kit required by the players and teams, but the influence these esports players have over their fanbase to sell the same or similar equipment to the millions watching at home.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “Competitive titles are as old as gaming itself, from Pong to Bomberman, through Doom, Quake, Streetfighter II and Mario Kart, all seeing gamers huddled together around arcade machines, living room TVs and playing over networks. Esports is just an evolution of this aspect of gaming, and is growing fast. But only now is it attracting widespread interest outside of the traditional gaming sphere.”

What are the best gaming platforms out there in particular, which are most favoured by esports fans?

Mike Hart Box: “Twitch is undoubtedly the biggest platform among esports players and fans alike. It’s deep rooted live streaming background perfectly suits competitive need-to-watch live gameplay like no other, while YouTube provides a bigger audience, but instead serves a more casual watch-when-it-suits experience. Facebook have certainly made big strides with their gaming platform hosted within their native app. The abundant Facebook groups that cultivate communities for each of our favourite games, combined with their immensely clever algorithm, enables Facebook to recommend content based on our previous browsing and interaction history. This provides esports streamers with a set of fantastic tools to grow their audience on this platform, due to the ease of discovery and given the fact that most of the world have a login, so are able to interact without needing an account that they may not have or be signed into.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “Twitch and Youtube are the two biggest esports platforms, as they make it so easy to get started with live streaming gaming events, and these platforms offer all the support required. Most players start on those platforms and immediately have access to large potential audiences, which matters a lot as a way to build up a reputation.”

How are you seeing the esport market evolve? What are the current trends?

Mike Hart, Box: “Esports is becoming big business fast and many companies, celebrities and sports organisations are taking note! With notable owners such as Drake, Mike Tyson and Will Smith, not to mention many sports franchise owners investing into this market, the esports scene is quickly filling up with high profile teams financially backed to succeed. This investment has been replicated by many historic sports organisations within the UK who look to tap into online gaming and gain more influence within this space given the synergy between the real sport and the virtual equivalent.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “An objective way to measure the success of esports is through growth of prize funds, which are now at a level where they rival traditional sports. Last year the winning Dota 2 team in the official International tournament took home over $18m between them, which is quite incredible, and rivalling prize funds from traditional sports. These pools will only get bigger in time and that will generate even more interest.”

Where do you predict the future of the esport market going? What can we expect to see more of?

Mike Hart, Box: “As investment grows within esports, prize pots will rise too, attracting the biggest professional players to compete in top tier tournaments. This will culminate in more advertising opportunities fuelling the product’s growth. However to be truly accepted and deemed equal among their physical sporting counterparts, esports will need to reach mainstream media, with their players becoming modern day celebrities covered by sporting and news outlets in the same way that top professional sports stars are. There have been many breakout YouTube stars, although to gain more fame many have turned to other ventures including film, tv and boxing to grow their audience. Esports will need to develop its own stars that capture the public’s interest and largely stay within this sector in order for esports to be taken to the next level. Something, which is sure to happen in the next few years.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “There is still plenty of room for growth in esports that will see even bigger audiences, but this currently varies around the world. For example in the UK we’re not used to events being broadcast on TV, but it’s already quite common in South Korea, where esports is proving very popular.”

What are the top esports games?

Mike Hart, Box: “There’s somewhat of a disparity between the most viewed streamed games online and competitive prize money available, which is where the majority of esports teams will focus their efforts. Games like GTA V are immensely popular with streamers and viewers, but offer little to no competitive action in a repeatable form. As such games like Dota 2, League of Legends, CS:GO and Fortnite remain the popular choices for esports players, although when it comes to the list of available games with competitions and healthy competitive player bases, you would be surprised at how many diverse options are out there.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “Even though there are countless multiplayer games out there, only a select few attain the enviable position of becoming regular fixtures in esports. Valorant, Counter Strike, League of Legends, Fortnite and Call Of Duty are the biggest names that come to mind, with some such as Starcraft remaining popular in Asia, even though the original game is now a few decades old.”

What are the commercial opportunities in esports?

Mike Hart, Box: “Any content that commands a regular and growing viewership will always attract advertising in both physical and digital forms. Advertising on players shirts, pre and mid-roll adverts, right the way through to the equipment each player uses all present advertising opportunities. This provides a fantastic opportunity to situate gaming related brands, products and resellers in content geared for their prime target market. Extending past the many advertising opportunities, esports has the ability to create and host live events, attracting even more commercial income. With various bespoke and adaptable venues across America and Europe, theirs plenty of scope for esports to create its own tentpole events on the scale of the Super Bowl, World Cup or even Olympics in the not so distant future.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “For manufacturers of peripherals and PC components, having a product that can offer a genuine advantage to gameplay performance in competitive titles will certainly generate interest and can make a big difference to sales. So product design and marketing is moving in that direction, which is why we’re now seeing PC displays with refresh rates as high as 360Hz, and a lot of attention paid to button configurations on keyboards and mice.”

What esports partnerships are you currently involved in if any, or the most notable you can identify within the esports sector?

Mike Hart, Box: “At present Box aren’t involved with any esports partnerships, but it is something we’re actively perusing. A large part of our customer-base and our audience in general is heavily invested in gaming, both on console and PC. As such the union here between that audience and esports makes for a very appealing industry for Box to get involved in. A notable partnership that has came to our attention, has been Faze Clan’s deal with McDonalds. Whenever a household name gets involved within an emerging sector, it will always send signals to others that this market is something to keep a watchful eye over and that’s exactly what this collaboration has done. McDonald’s are clearly looking for new and exciting ways to stay in front of younger viewers who’ve moved away from traditional media and esports represents the perfect way to do so.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “It’s not an area Wired2Fire is currently involved in but it is something we’re looking into.”

What are the current global developments in esports that you know of?

Mike Hart, Box: “With more and more streaming enabled devices in our hands globally and faster on the go connectivity, the growth for consuming esports content seems limitless. An effort to develop esports in emerging markets such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East will be at the forefront of the scene’s expansion in years to come.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “The 2022 acquisition of ESL Gaming by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is possibly the biggest news in the history of esports, particularly because these kinds of purchases mirror the large-scale investments we now see in traditional sports, such as Premier League football teams. It’s good news because it clearly points to belief in long-term growth in the market.”

What are the current developments in the UK esports market?

Mike Hart, Box: “As esports truly emerges as a viable commercial venture within the UK, many sporting bodies at both club and international level are creating their own esports divisions within their organisations. This opens up another touchpoint for clubs to engage with their fanbase, as well as extending their revenue possibilities through sponsorships and prizemoney. This is the development required for esports in the UK, as the grassroots player base is there to feed through. What is needed is large organisations with a proven track record to lead the way and create the interest in professional esports tournaments that capture the public’s imagination. This was demonstrated during lockdown when premier league football clubs teamed up with EA sports for a lockdown tournament involving their professional footballers, who have an enormous reach.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “Adding esports as a pilot event at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham is a big development, for the important reasons already mentioned such as opening up to a wider audience. At this stage many fans of traditional sports, particularly older generations, may not even know what the term esports refers to, so this is a great showcase for the industry in the UK.”

How are women being actively encouraged into the sports world?

Mike Hart, Box: “As is being seen across many different sectors, greater growth can be achieved through greater diversity. The inclusion of women within esports is at the forefront of this and heavily backed by the British Esports’ Women in esports initiative, whose aim is to raise awareness and encourage femme identifying/femme presenting non-binary players to take part in a welcoming esports community. With many high profile female streamers and an ever-increasing female player-base, there’s certainly a large talent pool of players to choose from. The opportunity to reach new audiences is also bound to speed up inclusion as organisations realise that a diverse roster of players will capture a larger audience and with a larger audience comes greater revenue opportunities.”

Toby Roberts, Wired2Fire: “There are a number of women-only esports teams, tournaments and leagues, and with the continued overall growth in the number of people gaming, there is still growing interest in esports from both men and women.”

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