The following was primarily written by colleague Jesse Ghiorzi director, brand strategy for CHARGE
Big brands, big money, young fans and professional teams from traditional sports are all heading to eSports, but it still seems like the Wild West out there. There’s no clear top league or major event(s) that crosses over to the mainstream 24/7. Some players make big bucks while others don’t and several teams are very buttoned up while others are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
How can eSports be reined in and organized so it can grab a stronghold in the public’s consciousness, attract more casual fans and ultimately challenge traditional sports for popularity?
Here are a few ideas.
Organizations like, NASCAR, USA Track & Field and The Jockey Club provide structure for sports without a clear “major league” and different types of competitions under their purview. They protect and develop the participants, enforce rules and help promote their respective sports.
The lack of a governing body to date in eSports is one key factor in truly breaking into the mainstream. A governing body would provide organization and stability that make eSports a safer bet for sponsors and traditional big businesses to get involved. They can also help with some of the other issues we’ll get into like scheduling, event promotion, player protection and more.
Now WESA, the World Esports Association, was founded in May 2016 by eight of the world’s most popular esports teams (Fnatic, Natus Vincere, EnVyUS, Virtus.Pro, Gamers2, Faze, mousesports, Ninjas in Pyjamas) and ESL, the world’s largest esports company, who shared a collective vision to further professionalize the sport by introducing elements of player representation, standardized regulations and revenue sharing for teams and longtime media exec Ken Hershman is now at its head, trying to answer all or some of the issues, but a non-affiliated body does not yet exist.
Last week, League of Legends announced increased salary minimums, revenue sharing and the formation of a players union by 2018. This a major step in the right direction. Players are the stars that drive interest in a league and that attract fans.
The biggest thing unions can do is work on collective bargaining agreements (CBA) with the publishers. They will have different needs and may not be on the same page, which likely necessitates one union per publisher or even title, unlike in traditional team sports. CBAs give players the protection and power they deserve and create more accountability from the teams and the league.
However, LOL is just one title and Riot Games just one publisher – though both are among the biggest throughout eSports. If other publishers and titles follow this trend, the players and eSports as a whole win big. Are their issues that individual sports like MMA face with players collective bargaining? Yes. But a key part of the storytelling is having fair and equal playing fields across the board, and a form of a union can move to do that.
Fewer big tournaments
Ask your friends or colleagues when the Super Bowl is, when the World Series, NBA Finals, The Masters or Wimbledon is. Even casual fans can make good guesses at these, but ask that same group when – or even what – the biggest ESL, MLG or specific title’s tournament is. Blank stares, right? Tentpole events and key dates drive the calendars of many of the biggest sports in the United States and abroad.
Thousands of tournaments across dozens of titles every year means you can always stream something. But it also means casual or new fans don’t know which ones to watch. If publishers limit which events they heavily promote and create a strong schedule, it’s easier for fans to decide which events to follow to see the best players. Golf and tennis have done a great job of this.
Sports like basketball have clear paths from childhood to the pros. From AAU to high school, college and the draft, you know which steps to take to get to the top of your sport.
That’s not the case with eSports. A governing body or an organization like NACE or the NCAA – if they ever decide to get involved – can help create a process for young gamers to follow to go from their living rooms to stadiums.
Esports is on the right track, but it still needs to make a few moves to stake its place in the mainstream sports landscape. These won’t be done overnight, but if they’re done right, esports will grab even more attention and money from fans, brands and broadcasters in the future.
Jesse Ghiorzi is the director, brand strategy for CHARGE (chargegf.com). He leads the branding team and handles media relations, content development, branding and positioning strategies for CHARGE clients.
Before joining CHARGE, Ghiorzi directed PR, social media and ticket sales at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He got his start in sports with the Texas Tornado before a stint at the Columbus Blue Jackets. Born and raised in New York, Ghiorzi graduated from Miami University. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife, Chelsi, a sport psychologist, and two dogs with sports-themed names.