Video games have increased in popularity and accesibility in recent years, and this has translated to increasing success in the esports industry. Viewership numbers have always been extremely high: over 32M people watched the League of Legends championship this year, almost double the number of people who watched the NBA finals. PC games have been driving the esports industry through games like CounterStrike, League of Legends, and DoTA. The latest example of this is the Overwatch League, a video game league that recently wrapped up its first season.
Even though I consider myself an avid gamer, I never really tuned into esports events, for they were usually centered around games that I didn’t play heavily. But Overwatch has been a hugely popular game, and other gamers like myself are starting to tune into the Overwatch League games, showcasing how it is fighting to be the next level of esports engagement.
Since Boston has an Overwatch League team (the Boston Uprising), I thought that this would be a great opportunity to watch the matches and root for a team. There was an initial watch party for the first game of the season, and I expected that the attendance there wouldn’t be too high, even with Boston/Cambridge being filled with geeks and nerds. To my surprise, even though I got to the location an hour before the game started, the venue was packed with people watching the game before. Thinking back on it, this makes sense to me now: everyone else in that room was there for more than just watching the video game. Of course, the event is centered around Overwatch, but the draw and appeal is from the community. Looking around, I saw people with team gear on, talking about game strategies and their favorite characters to play. I couldn’t help but laugh, for I never saw anything like this before, but it also made me realize that this is quickly becoming the new norm.
I’ve also loved sports my entire life, and there are multiple parallels between playing sports and playing video games. Especially in team-oriented video games (like Overwatch), strategy and communication is key, and both teams are trying to be more efficient in their approach to winning. The balance between a successful individual contribution and sacrificing duties for the sake of the team’s success is what comes to define a great team athlete, and this is true for team-based video games as well.
When you recognize the parallels in community and participation in both traditional sports and esports, then the opportunity for analytics seems obvious. Startups are already starting to capitalize off of this opportunity; Dojo Madness recently raised $6 million in funding for their coaching and SaaS analytics platform. Since those who are interfacing with video games should already have a basic understanding of technology, these analytics tools and offerings are more likely to engage and improve their productivity, as compared to an average football or baseball fan.
In terms of business analytics, the market itself is growing but presents opportunities as well. Video game ‘geeks’ and ‘nerds’ are usually willing to spend disposable income on merchandise and other types of memorabilia, and I saw this first hand at the Boston Uprising event that I attended. I myself bought a Boston Uprising shirt, and when I got to the event, there were more people with Boston Uprising gear than those without, and it seemed that most of the attendees had bought their gear at the event itself. As the esports industry grows, this will a market segment that will garner more and more interest, especially as it lines up with the rapid growth of the tech industry.
Analytics in entertainment offerings is not a new concept; Netflix pioneered and used this concept to drive their recommendation engine, and this has led to their success in the market. I believe that as video games and esports grow in popularity, these analytic offerings will also prove to be extremely useful for consumers. Recommendation systems, marketing analytics, and player statistics are all examples of solutions that are already present in the sports and entertainment industry, and we can expect to see similar growth opportunities in the gaming industry.