eSports teams and tournaments have evolved into household names and lifestyle brands in Canada, yet the broadcasting community still treats the phenomenon as a novelty. Here are four reasons why Canadian broadcasters should capitalize on this growing form of entertainment.
In recent years, eSports – video games played competitively by professional gamers – has seen stratospheric growth in viewership and popularity, so much so, that it was prominently featured at the 2019 NAB Show which dedicated space to its eSports Experience, hosting panels and tournaments focused on the global phenomenon. While American broadcasters have already embraced eSports, with ESPN and Disney acquiring the rights to some of the most popular events, Canadian broadcasters remain reticent even as Canada emerges as one of the most eager territories when it comes to competitive gaming.
1. eSports have become a big business
Canada is more than just a nation of people who enjoy playing video games. Mintel’s Attitudes Toward Gaming study reveals a quarter of Canadians have gone online to watch others play and one in five consider eSports as important as traditional sporting events. To bring this into perspective, the number of Canadians interested in eSports significantly exceeds the number of Canadians interested in the CFL.
Long gone are the days in which gaming was a fringe hobby. According to Reuters, the gaming industry is now bigger than the music and movie industries combined and the most profitable form of experiential entertainment. Canadian entertainment companies like Cineplex have acquired a competitive gaming platform and now feature in-theatre tournaments, while Lionsgate has also invested in eSports.
Gaming has become such a mainstream powerhouse that top streamers are getting paid in excess of a million dollars to promote a game just for playing it for a couple of hours, eSports tournaments have prize pools of tens of millions, several pro teams have valuations of over a $100 million dollars, and the International Olympic Committee is considering hosting eSports as a demonstration at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
For Canadian millennials, video games have become a meaningful conduit to music discovery. A song featured in the soundtrack of a popular video game will be heard around the world a billion times.
2. Canada is a nation of gamers
The average age of the Canadian gamer is 39 and according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, there is an even number of men and women comprising Canada’s 23 million gamers. 80% of Canadians view video games as mainstream entertainment, with over 70% of parents gaming with their children at least once a week.
Almost two million of the 26.2 million people who watched The Game Awards in 2018 were Canadian. The show, executive produced by Canadian video game journalist Geoff Keighley, was live streamed on more than 40 different services worldwide. Despite not having a traditional broadcasting partner, it garnered a Canadian audience superior to the Junos.
With such a large proportion of gamers, it should come to no surprise that Canada has become a leader in hosting some of the biggest and most prestigious eSports tournaments in the world. In 2018, the great white north was host to The Dota 2 International Championship, the Get On My Level fighting tournament, and AdrenaLAN.
— UMG Events (@UMGEvents) July 31, 2017
The Dota 2 International 2018 was one of the largest eSports tournaments with Rogers Arena’s 20,000 seats sold out for the six days of the competition and the final watched online by over 15 million people.
3. Canadian talent is a force to be reckoned with
From streamers to athletes, Canada has no shortage of gifted individuals who know how to grow their follower base and keep an audience engaged. Several Canadians like Shroud, Pokimane, and KittyPlays can be found at the top of the most influential Twitch streamers ladder. Canadian artists like Drake and the Weeknd have also become brand advocates, following in Michael Jordan’s footsteps and become co-owners of eSports companies. Gaming properties have transcended from offbeat activities into mainstream lifestyle brands.
When Drake teamed up to play Fortnite with Twitch’s top streamer, Ninja, a 26-year-old who went from working at a fast food joint to making $500,000 a month playing video games, it set a new milestone for the platform.
As one of the top Twitch streamers in both followers and average concurrent viewership, Moroccan-Canadian Imane Anys, aka Pokimane, has been tapped to be the face of high-end and premium gaming products.
Influencers showing their support for eSports is fantastic, but having winning Canadian teams contributes even more to the appeal. When the owners of the Vancouver Canucks unveiled their eSports team, the Vancouver Titans, the expectations from local eSports fans were high. The team has yet to disappoint, currently sitting at the top of the Overwatch League – the professional eSports league for the team-based, Hero shooter video game Overwatch.
In 2017, experts predicted that by 2020 eSports would grow to $1.5 billion in revenue. Those estimates have had to regularly be revised as year-on-year growth rates exceed analyst predictions.
4. There is a demand for content that is not met by Canadian broadcasters
So, this is where we find ourselves: Canadian eSports fans are selling out arenas, filling movie theaters, and watching streams on online platforms in huge numbers, but they’re unable to quench their thirst for information about their favorite Canadian team or eSport from Canadian broadcasters.
Mainstream broadcasting is still treating eSports as a marginal, hobby-based, oddity. This is why Canadian eSports fans have no alternative than to turn to content created by other fans. Ready Set Pwn is a popular podcast dedicated to the Vancouver Titans. Similar podcasts exist for other Canadian teams and eSports, with a large part of their success due to the lack of competition.
Some Canadian broadcasters are warming up to eSports. Checkpoint XP*, the only syndicated eSports radio program, is now airing on TSN radio stations in Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton and Winnipeg. But the longer broadcasters wait to create content focused on local Canadian teams and athletes, the tougher the competition will get. With each passing day, online content creators are growing their audiences and establishing themselves as the authority when it comes to the eSports community in their local markets.
As the great Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” The eSports puck is in front of Canadian broadcasters, it’s up to them to take the shot.
*Checkpoint XP is syndicated in Canada through Momentum Media Networks, which is owned by Momentum Media Marketing, Broadcast Dialogue’s parent company.
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