Eyes opened to esports at The Telegraph Business of Sport

The Telegraph Business of Sport event this year included a sizable band of esports folk.

From Fnatic CEO Wouter Sleijffers to Twitch’s Chris Mead and Ceirnan ‘excoundrel’ Lowe, the esports crowd was out in force amongst the speakers when compared with some other traditional sports. It was undoubtedly a learning curve for many attendees, not least veteran sports writer Jim White, who moderated the final panel featuring Fnatic’s Wouter and Duncan McMonagle of Minute Media (the company who recently launched DBLTAP). 

White, who was flabbergasted at the discovery that Fnatic have been around since 2004, asked the usual questions of what traditional sports can learn from esports and what it’s doing differently. Wouter answered: “One part is the level and rate of innovation. Esports is also a very dynamic space, new games do emerge and in turn create new opportunities.”

McMonagle added: “As traditional sports organisations in 2017 you have to adapt and digitalise. There needs to be a shift to attract a younger audience.”

White went on to ask McMonagle, whose company Minute Media was a sponsor of the event, whether esports is now the key part of their product roadmap. Minute Media also has the likes of 90min under its umbrella. McMonagle responded: “In terms of rights acquistions and what we’ve achieved in esports, simply put there’s no way we could have done the same in football for instance. Our deals with the big hitters of ESL and DreamHack are huge, and right now such deals are undervalued.”

“The value of these will go up and that’s why we’re delighted to have ‘got in early’. Being able to combine offering a voice for fans with the exclusive content and access that these brand partners give us is going to make for an exceptional platform. The numbers from the past month are excellent for DBLTAP and we’re beginning to make a name for ourselves.”

McMonagle also gave a word of warning for any brands considering the move into esports. He noted: “You have to be sympathetic to the audience you’re targeting, and there are a number of distinct communities within the umbrella term of esports.”

Fnatic’s Sleijffers added: “It’s rough at times. Even at Fnatic sometimes we’ve done things that people don’t like and haven’t responded well to. It’s a case of doing and learning, but first and foremost you have to know your audience as well as you possibly can.”

Earlier in the day the audience heard from one of Vfl Wolfsburg’s FIFA players David ‘DaveBTW’ Bytheway who delivered a presentation on the title’s global appeal, the Wolfburg story and also balked at an enquiry as to whether he plays PES. 

An earlier panel saw Chris Mead of Twitch, Christian Weiglin Thorn the Head of Marketing at Audi Denmark, Ceirnan ‘excoundrel’ Lowe and Chester King of the British Esports Association sit down for a chat. As moderator, Lowe led them through a series of topics, but early on Mead pointed out that, in his mind, no doubt about it esports are sports. 

Chester King explained to a diverse sporting audience that there are around 35 different esports titles right now, and that the fans dictate which are ‘in charge’. He also gave a glowing comparison of major live events in esports when compared with traditional sports: “Esports live are so much more engaging and thrilling than traditional sports.”

Thorn discussed Audi’s work in esports to date, which saw the company sponsor Danish side Astralis for the ELEAGUE Major. Thorn explained that whilst they’ve found KPI’s tricky to establish they have found that only 1/10th of conversations were based in Denmark. As such it was a far more global activation than they expected, which has reportedly led to a number of conversations regarding their future in the space. 

Mead followed up on this point: “Once sponsors realise the diversity and breadth of this space, that gamers and esports fans are across demographics, then more will inevitably enter.” As for sports clubs moving in he said: “There’s an opportunity to get ahead right now and reach a new audience. In terms of reaching a younger audience and tapping new markets globally, in Asia for instance, esports is an excellent route. Ajax are a great example of this.”

There was talk of ‘toxic chat’ in certain communities and the potential for it to put off possible sponsors. Mead pointed to the moderation suite they’ve built and continue to work on at Twitch to combat this issue, but Lowe also rightly pointed out that “this isn’t a gaming problem, it’s an internet problem”.

Esports Insider says: The Telegraph BOS was one of those events at which it seemed that for the majority of the audience this was something of a journey of discovery in terms of learning about esports. It showed that the wider sports industry, in the UK at least, remains perhaps not as knowledgable about esports as we might think, but events like this are an important tool in providing this education. Fingers crossed this will lead to notably better coverage of esports in the mainstream press than what we’ve experienced to date. 

Disclaimer: Esports Insider was an official media partner of Telegraph BOS