By Barry Janoff
September 25, 2015: If you needed any proof that eSports is a booming category, look no farther than events that have taken place over the past few weeks.
Turner Broadcasting and WME | IMG have formed an alliance to create an eSports competitive gaming league. Through the venture, Turner and WME | IMG said they would "deliver competitive gaming events for all platforms including premium live fan experiences, televised coverage airing exclusively on TBS and extensive, high quality live digital event coverage and content extensions."
The move coincides with DFS company DraftKings adding eSports to its offerings. DraftKings' eSports games will center on the League of Legends World Championship through a partnership with six leading eSports organizations. The DraftKings eSports partnership was brokered by IMG.
DFS platform FanDuel has acquired AlphaDraft in its first entry into the fantasy eSports market. AlphaDraft is an online destination that incorporates eSports, live streaming and fantasy sports.
Activision unveiled a global eSports league for its video game franchise, Call of Duty, with The Call of Duty World League to feature competitions in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based Super League Gaming launched what it called the "world's first in-theater video game league, a six-week league featuring Minecraft that will be live in more than 30 cities, scheduled to begin Oct. 6. Super League Gaming said that more than "10,000 excited players and Minecraft fans poured into theaters across the nation this summer during Super League's limited pre-launch tour to experience the future of gaming and eSports"
Skillz, a global leader in mobile eSports, said it has raised $15 million in Series B funding, led by Wildcat Capital Management, with The Kraft Group, owners of the NFL's New England Patriots and Marc Lasry, co-owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, participating in the round.
"With more people playing video games than all physical sports, eSports are achieving mainstream adoption, and Skillz is leading the way," said Lasry in a statement. "It's easy to imagine the day when eSports competitions share the same court as the Milwaukee Bucks."
eSports revenues totaled $194 million in 2014 and are predicted to reach $278 million in 2015 and are estimated to grow to $765 million in 2018, according to The Global Growth of Esports, a study released earlier this year and updated this month from gaming research, consulting and marketing firm NewZoo, San Francisco.
The number of eSports enthusiasts worldwide has grown from 89.7 million last year to 116 million in 2015, according to NewZoo.
"On a global scale, the number of eSports enthusiasts compares well to mid-tier traditional sports," NewZoo wrote in its study. "Swimming and ice hockey, for example, have 76 million and 94 million global fans, respectively, similar to the 89 million eSports enthusiasts. By 2017, the global number of eSports fans will come close to that of American football."
Among the brands aligned with eSports are Coca-Cola, Intel, Nissan and T-Mobile.
“eSports is one of the fastest growing entertainment genres among young adults around the world,” Lenny Daniels, president for Turner Sports, said regarding the formation of the Turner-WME | IMG alliance. “We’re looking forward to creating a tremendous live event atmosphere, leveraging the infrastructure and expertise within Turner Studios, and presenting the competitions in an innovative way throughout our portfolio of leading brands.”
Domestically, the eSports audience is currently 32 million people with anticipated growth to more than 50 million by 2017, with more than half of adult eSports viewers younger than 35 years old, according to Turner and WME | IMG.
Global eSports viewership is more than 226 million people, with the total expected to climb to 323 million by 2018, per NewZoo.
Nigel Eccles, CEO and co-founder for FanDuel, included that broader audience when he said, “With over 200 million people globally watching eSports, AlphaDraft gives those fans a way to engage with this burgeoning entertainment product that creates an enormous opportunity for us.
"This is sports for a new demographic, with very little crossover with what are considered traditional sports fans, and this acquisition gives us the ability to leverage the expertise of AlphaDraft's team, while helping their efforts in customer acquisition and building awareness of this new industry. It's a win-win," said Eccles.
DraftKing's move into the category came with its own marketing support, "How to Play eSports on DrafKings."
"eSports is one of the world's most popular spectator sports, and we are excited to introduce League of Legends to our industry-leading fantasy platform as a way to bring fans worldwide closer to the game," Matt Kalish, CRO and co-founder of DraftKings, said in a statement. "Our partnerships with Cloud 9, TSM, CLG, SK Gaming, compLexity Gaming and Mousesports show our strong commitment to the eSports space, and our desire to work with top teams and players to support and help grow this booming space."
DraftKings said it would begin offering fantasy eSports contests on Oct. 1 with the start of the League of Legends World Championships. Participants would be able to "play for free or compete against others in cash prize leagues, including a $3 entry fee contest featuring $25,000 in prizes."
Turner Broadcasting WME | IMG said that their eSports programming, scheduled to begin in 2016, would feature ten consecutive weeks of programming twice per year airing Friday nights on TBS, "the most extensive commitment to televised eSports programming to date ."
eSports tournaments will be televised twice per year with each ten-week period including a regular season, playoffs and championship, per Turner and WME | IMG. Both tournaments woud include eSports teams facing off in competition while playing Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
WME | IMG said that its eSports business "operates as a full-service team management, marketing and representation firm with specialties in brand consulting, digital and live event management, marketing and licensing."
WME | IMG said it is involved in more than 800 live events around the world each year and is the "largest independent producer and distributor of sports programming in the world, distributing more than 32,000 hours each year from more than 200 organizations and events."
“The eSports environment is purpose-built for a generation that consumes content across multiple platforms and seeks unique live experiences,” said Mark Shapiro, chief content officer for WME | IMG. “We’re proud to be partnering with Turner to give competitive gaming a first-of-its-kind platform to meet the needs of the industry’s growing fan base and attract new audiences around the world.”
“Call of Duty has always been about community, camaraderie and competition, which drives incredible engagement with the game all year long. eSports allows us to deliver these moments to our fans whether they are playing the game themselves or cheering on those who are,” Eric Hirshberg, CEO for Activision, said in a statement. “Three years ago, we held the first Call of Duty Championship to showcase the dedication and skill of Call of Duty players around the world. Since then, eSports has become a global phenomenon with more than 120 million people watching online competitive gaming each year and Call of Duty continues to lead as the top console eSports franchise in the world.”
"We see eSports as the future of sports," Len Potter, chief investment officer for Wildcat Capital Management, said in a statement. "Mobile is rapidly becoming the most popular gaming platform in history, and Skillz is at the forefront of competitive mobile gaming."
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