ESI Super Forum: Understanding the esports ecosystem – Panel Assessment

27 March 2018


At the Esports Insider Super Forum on Thursday 22nd March, our expert panelists gathered in front of a full house for the first session of the day to discuss the esports ecosystem; who’s watching, what it’s worth and why traditional sports should care.

The panel comprised of (From left to right in picture) Riot Games’ UK Head of Publishing Mark Cox, ESL UK Managing Director James Dean, Team Dignitas General Manager Michael ‘ODEE’ O’Dell and Kinguin CEO Viktor Wanli.

Opening the discussion, moderator Ian Smith, Commissioner at the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) asked simply: “Why do some games become esports and some don’t?” Though simple, it escalated a discussion on the fundamentals of esports; the audience, the importance of publisher support and the benefits of getting involved in the industry.

James Dean was very vocal about the importance of community in esports, reiterating the point that the gaming community constantly has choice over which games they play – meaning publishers must always be on their toes to ward off competition, even going as far as to say that the community are “the only stakeholder” in esports.

Cox was fully in agreement with this sentiment and stated that “community is absolutely at the heart of esports success and you’ll see that with every core title”. 

The panel also discussed the benefits of being in esports, “other than loving it”. Though this threw the panelists off a bit, they were honest in their answers and initiated a conversation around money in esports that we don’t often get to hear. ODEE openly said that “nobody is making money yet” – though hyperbole, he made it clear that esports isn’t necessarily at a point of stability yet. Dean backed him up, using the statistical comparison between spending of sports and esports fans. He said that esports fans spend, on average, $0.70 (50p) a year, in comparison to NBA fans spending around $70 (£49.59) a year on average. What our panel wanted is a way to minimise that gap to make esports more secure for players, organisations, investors, sponsors and everyone in between.

ODEE is of course the GM of Dignitas, which was the first team acquired by a ‘traditional sports’ team in the form of the Philadelphia 76ers, an NBA team which is owned by the same parent company behind Crystal Palace FC and the New Jersey Devils. 

Smith asked the panel  one question which could probably warrant a conference in its own right; who is the esports audience? Cox responded that it is becoming the new go to thing for youngsters to be entertained; they’ll head to Twitch or YouTube and watch what looks interesting, and that this means they aren’t necessarily players. He also made the vital point that it is constantly evolving meaning the audience is often changing and it’s hard to pin down, so stakeholders have to be as proactive as possible.

ESL UK’s Dean mentioned that there are over a billion people playing games making the games industry at large the largest entertainment industry globally. There are of course a lot less watching but, he continued, in terms of the narrative being created, and the likes of Drake playing with Fortnite will likely lead to more and more non-gamers watching this content. He gave Rocket League as an example of one which is easy to understand right away. 

Finally, the panel discussed traditional sports clubs and what their aims moving in to esports, especially in terms of which tier of esport they should get involved with. Should they aim to get a team in their respective sport to make a clear alignment, or aim for the top straight away?

ODEE urged any sports organisations considering esports to do their homework first and figure out what they want. He explained how the Dignitas players get exceptional access to all 76ers facilities, from everything to the training facilities including the gym, the nutritionists, the doctors, the physios and so on. He said that with football clubs he wouldn’t go for FIFA alone, but yes he would get involved in the title’s scene as he’s a huge football fan himself. 

During the predictions for the future, Dean made the assessment that we’ll stop talking about esports and talk instead about individual games, whilst ODEE predicted that one of his players will rock up training in a Bugatti. Kinguin’s Viktor Wanli meanwhile pointed to blockchain and how important it’ll become to the ecosystem at large. 

This group of experts set out a strong foundation for the discussions that would be held throughout the day, and the video (as well as those from all other panels) will be available soon to watch in full.