Ari Evans – Maestro – Beyond view counts, viewer participation in esports

Which businesses should use streamers? Maestro is a company which aims to transform live streaming into a ‘meaningful tool for business growth’. So far they’ve worked with the likes of Playstation, ELEAGUE, Capcom, Echo Fox, Coachella and more. 

The company, which raised £2.2m in a Series A funding round back in September 2017, is a ‘white label engagement and analytics platform for enterprise streamers’. This means that publishers, leagues, teams and so on can utilise Maestro to achieve their own ends with the aim being to drive better engagement and superior value out of their streams. 

Ari Evans, Maestro

Here we spoke to company founder and CEO Ari Evans about the myriad ways in which their platform can be used, how to define value from a stream, understanding audiences and engagement in the modern age, the power of data and more. 

Esports Insider: In the current streaming landscape, how important is it for enterprise streamers (e.g. publishers, leagues, and teams) to provide viewers with ways to engage with them and with each other?  Do they require a complex and fun range of options? How is success measured?

Ari Evans: When I worked at Zynga, I was amazed to learn how large a role data plays in game development.

After all, games are all about engaging the player and publishers strive to build communities around continued engagement. It’s a mixture of giving users what they want while also delighting them in new ways. Early on in our development of Maestro, it was surprising to discover that these same companies apply a dramatically less rigorous approach to live streaming, which clearly has become a critically important and transformative medium for engagement. As Twitch initially gained stream, the industry was abuzz with talk about the level of “interactivity” they fostered, but many years later we haven’t moved very far past chat and many question its value entirely.

“Game developers should operate under the assumption that their game likely won’t be the most popular in terms of viewership and instead shift focus to engaging the core audience”

As live streaming matures, key stakeholders are evolving and realising that reach may not be the best metric to evaluate success, since that mostly fits a media rights or advertising-based approach. The gaming industry should look to its past as a good indicator of the future. I personally played Everquest, one of the original MMORPGs, for over 7 years. The game is almost two decades old, still up and running, with new content under development. How can that be viable? Because the core audience who cares about the game is engaged, the community is active, and they are happy to pay on a subscription basis for what they love.

Game developers should operate under the assumption that their game likely won’t be the most popular in terms of viewership and instead shift focus to engaging the core audience. After all, it is that constituency that will contribute the lion’s share of revenue to the bottom line. Data is a vital element of catering to those users.

“Determining the best strategy to engage a particular audience will require experimentation”

With that in mind, we think it is important to offer many options for engagement–not necessarily for the sake of variety, but because determining the best strategy to engage a particular audience will require experimentation. At the moment, there is no clear guideline on what a best-in-class interactive live stream looks like. We are hard at work with our customers and the industry to invent the new gold standard.

In our world, success is measured based on the percentage of audiences who like to engage in each way and the value of the resulting data or revenue that results from those actions.

ESI: How does Maestro work with clients to discover and develop tools to encourage viewer participation?

Ari: Maestro’s evolution has been a highly collaborative development with our customers and a continued act of experimentation to unlock the next major wave of interactive streams.

“The tools are only as good as the creative campaigns that leverage them. We are continually surprised by how our platform is used in ways we never expected”

Our highly successful quest system, for example, was brainstormed and first launched for PlayStation’s E3 streams. Soon after, our friends at Microsoft imagined an expansion of the feature, so we rolled out several big enhancements. A few months later, Capcom challenged us to enable automated in-game fulfillment for virtual goods. Recently, ELEAGUE needed us to support separate code banks depending on whether you logged in with a PlayStation or Microsoft account to participate.

Our positioning is unique in that we are an independent entity entirely focused on a complex set of problems which are outside the core competence of publishers and leagues. We truly are here to support the industry as a whole.

While it might seem unusual that these traditionally competitive companies are contributing to the development of a third party platform, the truth is that the tools are only as good as the creative campaigns that leverage them. We are continually surprised by how our platform is used in ways we never expected. Every feature we roll out is tied into our robust analytics dashboard, providing real-time stats to evaluate success, which helps align us with our customers to continually enhance existing features and discover new concepts to push the limits on participation.

ESI: Do ‘reach and view counts’ equate to business growth?

Ari: In short, no. Considering the zillions of tweet impressions and massive Facebook reach we all supposedly have, businesses should be orders of magnitude more successful than before we had social media.

Obviously, we all know that isn’t the case generally, though there are certainly outliers. Primarily, those who succeed are able to convert their reach metrics into growth of their bottom line. Having a large reach, in our opinion, equates to the potential for a particular kind of business growth.

“Publishers would be wise to start thinking through streaming as another customer acquisition channel, with the same rigor in analysis they already employ with their game”

In the esports world, sponsorship and media rights deals become increasingly viable with more reach, but right now as an industry, we aren’t doing a good job of understanding the funnel as it pertains to engagement across spectating and playing. The closest stat I’ve seen relates the percentage of spectators who also play the games they watch, but that is way too high level to be actionable. Our customers are becoming wiser and using our white-label login system to tie spectator data to in-game account engagement and spend.

Publishers would be wise to start thinking through streaming as another customer acquisition channel, with the same rigor in analysis they already employ with their game. This perspective highlights the necessity of identifying your viewers and preventing the continued disintermediation of audiences by big video platforms. Ultimately, owning your audience, building a direct relationship, and continually engaging them to maximize retention is going to be the winning strategy over the long term.

ESI: Esports marketing is predicted to grow by a sizable margin in the next few years as more brands wake up and realise the opportunity. What forms do you see this taking, and will influencer marketing play a major role?

Ari: We have already seen a massive change in the kinds of brands committing to the space and along with them comes large investment sums to propel the industry forward globally. We expect esports marketing to take any and all kinds of forms.

We’ll see a good portion of it following sports: star creation, narratives, rivalries, etc. We’ll continue to see brands pop up to support the lifestyle and culture. Influencer marketing will grow in significance, however, at the moment it is totally broken. This stems from two key issues. Firstly, measurement is hard/impossible; it is so difficult to measure the direct impact of influencer marketing that many publishers and brands simply accept throwing money into the wind for intangible benefits. Most of the campaigns I see that include influencers simply list the “reach” metrics, i.e. their follower count, which in most cases has little to do with actual results. But yet–what else is there?

“If your marketing plan doesn’t involve WeChat in China, you’re probably missing out on the single biggest opportunity in the country”

Secondly, it’s unclear how the activations should be marketed. Do they do a paid media campaign driving audiences to Twitch? To a landing page? How do they explain and measure the benefit? If you’re a publisher with an influencer program, how do you cross-promote streamers? By tweeting their links? In 2018 we will be discussing our solution to these problems that we believe will unlock the true potential of these programs.

ESI: Do the effective forms of marketing vary region to region; for example would you offer a different package to a brand targeting the millennial male demographic in China as opposed to the United States?

Ari: Having just traveled to China for the first time, it is clear that effective forms of marketing will vary from region to region. For example, if your marketing plan doesn’t involve WeChat in China, you’re probably missing out on the single biggest opportunity in the country.

“If it’s your first time watching League of Legends, we should probably give you some pointers as to what is going on”

From a live streaming perspective, we believe an important catalyst is in enabling uniquely personalized experiences. For example, if you’re from Japan but watching an esports event happening in the US, you would probably prefer if it was delivered to you in Japanese. If it’s your first time watching League of Legends, we should probably give you some pointers as to what is going on.

If you own Overwatch and are from Dallas, we should give you the in-game Dallas Fuel skin offer. Marketing campaigns will also be able to take advantage of this deep audience understanding–essentially with more effective targeting. If you own your own audience and have tools to segment and target them, then you don’t have to continuously rely on platforms like Facebook or Google who control 60% of the world’s advertising. For example, using our audience segmentation tools today, a publisher could sell their North American audience to Brand A and their European audience to Brand B. To drive audiences to your live stream platform, simply put, give the community something to talk about.

Word of mouth marketing is still king. The right answer will take into account the culture, behavior, and desires of your target audience.

ESI: Which industries have been fast to recognise the opportunity and make a move in esports, and which do you anticipate we’ll see more of in the next 2-3 years?

Ari: I highly recommend Manny Anekal’s Brand Tracker, which does a great job of monitoring brand activation in the space.

Historically, the industries quickest to recognise the opportunity have primarily been endemic industries–hardware manufacturers mainly–followed mainly by beverage companies. Now we’re seeing all kinds of brands get involved as they understand the cultural movement that accompanies esports.

“Today, there’s a good chance a random person off the street in a major metropolitan city considers him or herself a gamer”

“Gamers” were once esoteric and perhaps misunderstood but today, there’s a good chance a random person off the street in a major metropolitan city considers him or herself a gamer. It’s only going more mainstream from here and brands are realizing that esports fans are people–people who wear shoes, go to restaurants, travel, drive cars, etc. Many brands will probably get involved in ways that demonstrate their lack of understanding of the culture, but others will totally get it and set the example of successful campaigns.

ESI: Tell us about clients Maestro has worked within the esports field, and what stand out moments can you pinpoint to date? How do you measure the ROI for these?

Ari: One of Maestro’s core differentiating concepts is that there is a person–a “maestro”–in charge of engaging the audience while they watch.

I’ve been the maestro myself during many events and there’s always a magic feeling when watching a live audience interact with you and each other in real time. The impact of interactivity can often easily be observed, for example when fans discuss polls in the chat after they cast their vote. In that instance, we measure the percentage of the audience who engaged with the poll out of the total audience who saw the poll, but we could also measure the number of chat messages sent about the poll topic as well.

“It’s amazing how much you can learn from a few simple interactions; audience data changes everything”

One fun story is when the Gears of War 4 team offered an exclusive, limited-edition weapon skin as a quest reward. The quest was teased to the audience for hours before being unlocked and viewership continued to climb. When the magic moment arrived, we saw a huge influx of clicks in the span of 60 seconds, which heavily tested our infrastructure and taught us many valuable lessons.

To really drill down here, we could look at the users visiting the hub for the first time from a quest-related marketing message on Twitter who then subsequently claimed their skin for the first time. This would help measure the effectiveness of  driving viewership growth via this mechanism. The Gears team can also look at the Xbox IDs of those users to evaluate if they played the game soon after receiving their skin. Throughout the season, retention of these users could also be mapped out to better understand if the reward was an effective hook to convert a visitor into a continued fan of their league. As you can see from this example, we’re all about building fun and interactive elements into the broadcast that benefit the fan and the streamer with meaningful data to help drive decisions.

It’s amazing how much you can learn from a few simple interactions; audience data changes everything.