The spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has had a devastating rippling effect across the world that impacts virtually every industry, including esports.
While the inherently digital nature of video games has allowed publishers and competitive organisations the opportunity to continually entertain the masses from home, there’s a growing list of tournaments and events (including Esports Insider’s own ESI New York) that have been affected by the virus.
As part of our ongoing ‘Coping with coronavirus’ series, we spoke with Pete Durant, Director of Marketing for BLAST, about the organisation’s pivot from stadium-filled live events to online tournaments and daily content.
At the beginning of 2020, BLAST was enjoying a period of significant viewership growth, including an 88 percent uptick in spectators for the Spring Series in London. During that event, Durant said, the company employed increased hygiene and safety protocols for visitors to the studio but the coronavirus still felt “very far away.” Still, Durant and his team kept a close eye on how countries on their live event tour were approaching the situation.
“As we emerged from the Spring Series, we started to look ahead and like all good organisations, we had a plan A and plan B,” said Durant, adding that March was when things really started to shift. “Transitioning from an arena event in Moscow to an online spectacle has required effort and a bit of ‘social distanced’ sweat.”
BLAST Premier will be conducted online for the foreseeable future, including the Spring Showdown and Final in June. In the meantime, BLAST produces daily content on YouTube and Twitch. Content includes “BLAST Sessions,” a season of esports entertainment content with shows like “The Clinic” and “Mystery Wingman.” Beginning on April 30th, BLAST will begin roughly 53 days of continuous esports content either in tournament play or special content premieres.
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The most important thing to keep intact when pivoting BLAST content from in-person to online, Durant explained, is maintaining the same quality of experience with viewers.
“Our format from a tournament perspective remains the same – 12 of the world’s best teams competing alongside some qualifiers in the Spring Showdown,” he said. “How we deliver that has had to be tweaked, and we have had to be creative to meet the demand from our fans for content.”
The addition of American and European splits to BLAST’s Spring Showdown and Spring Final has allowed more teams – over 60 across formats and competitions – to play and more content to be produced.
“The visual product will be delivered slightly differently, with a few technology tweaks and awesome commitment from the teams, but the fan at home will hopefully love it,” says Durant.
Bringing multiple teams together during quarantine hasn’t been easy, per se, but Durant attributes BLAST’s ability to collaborate remotely to its existing global business model.
“All of our teams have been excellent on this front, working hard to ensure that they can bring the best players to a screen all hours of the day,” he said. “To make this work, we have worked with our network of broadcast partners, casters, crew, and the teams themselves.”
Being flexible, understanding, and collaborative has been the key to driving content strategies forward, Durant added, and it’s been a positive experience thus far as brands, teams, production partners, and sponsors work together to problem-solve.
“It’s also allowed a new kind of creativity, based on a test and evolve mentality,” he said.
Brands who teamed up with BLAST did so originally with the expectation of reaching live audiences in addition to those online. Now that the format has changed, albeit temporarily, Durant says that brand partners have been “fantastic in adapting.”
“Brands invest in the platform, reach, engagement, excitement, players, and the fans,” he explained. “Part of that investment goes towards the direct reach, but they are equally as interested in how they can keep engaging with fans in between our events.”
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One major takeaway from COVID-19 is that video games, and particularly esports, continually prove their value in terms of bringing diverse audiences together.
“We have always said we are always on – this horrific pandemic has shown that this is true,” he noted, adding that BLAST will release over 200 hours of programming and content over the next two months.
Durant offers advice for brands curious about entering esports during this tumultuous time.
“Trust is everything, but you need to take the first step,” he said. “There’s a reason sponsorship’s a thing – creating something just for financial gain won’t wash with esports fans. They’re smart, worldly, and have high standards.
“Brands wanting to enter esports need to ensure that their chosen partner has the respect of the audience. Esports is on people’s agendas now but hampered by a lack of knowledge about how it should be approached, and what exactly to do to get going. Find a good partner (give us a call) and just take the first step. It’s the hardest step to take but a hugely fulfilling one in their journey.”