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2020 represents a new era in live esports events. Activision Blizzard’s esports leagues, Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, will host events in their respective teams’ home markets, bringing live esports competition to cities that have never seen it before, and giving casual fans a new local sports team to root for.
With an unprecedented model in place, all eyes will be on the OWL and CDL, looking to evaluate their success in this new home market era.
“I think everybody’s going to the first one, especially the first half of the season,” John Davidson of Production Resource Group (PRG), a global production technology and solutions company, told The Esports Observer. Davidson joined PRG last fall as its director of business development, esports, having previously served as head of partnerships for GameStop. “The biggest challenge, I think it’s going to get people to come back the second time. And that’s going to be a major indicator of success. How well attended was your second event compared to your first one?”
For Davidson, measuring success in the OWL and CDL’s new system requires different criteria for its franchise stakeholders (teams) versus the brands partnered with each league. For the teams, he sees three key metrics to measure – online viewership, social media growth, and attendance (comparing a team’s first event of the season to future ones). That attendance will be influenced in-part by the size of the venue each team selects.
“I think [venue size is] going to vary by expectation. You’re going to have some teams that are going to be booking out larger venues, and then I think you’re going to have some people who are looking at Blizzard Arena with its 500-seat capacity. Some might be looking at something a little smaller, just to lower the risk, if you will.”
However, based on last year’s homestands, Davidson feels that around 3,000-seats is ideal. In 2019, the Dallas Fuel sold out a 4,500-seat venue for two days. “So if I was a team,” Davidson said, “I probably want to get to that 2,500 to 3,000 capacity. And I think if you’re selling that out, you’re doing a good job from the numbers we’re seeing currently.” The first event of the season, the CDL launch in Minneapolis, Minnesota, took place at a venue with a capacity of 8,400, but available seating space is often reduced for esports events due to the amount of necessary production equipment. Ticket sales figures for the CDL launch weekend have not yet been released.
When planning out their events, Davidson feels teams should look to traditional sports as an example of how to evaluate competition. “Traditional sports teams do not even view ticket sales from the standpoint of a sports event, they view it as entertainment, and they view any form of entertainment in that area as competition. So the Dallas Mavericks, their competition on any given night is not just the Dallas Cowboys…or FC Dallas. It’s also Dave and Busters, it’s also Cinemark – going to the movies. It’s also staying home, right? It’s all sorts of things that could have something to do with sports or have absolutely nothing to do with sports.”
Davidson says that teams need to not only aim to create a unique sporting event, but the best entertainment opportunity available in the area. To the average entertainment consumer, esports is a brand new phenomenon, and in Davidson’s view, that is the industry’s advantage for drawing in attendees beyond the hardcore gamer.
“I believe that the word of mouth in each city that CDL and Overwatch League is in should be, ‘oh my gosh, you have to see this to believe it. You won’t experience anything like it.’ Then there’s going to be success because then you’re going to have attendance. So repeated attendance is really going to be the litmus test.”
Davidson feels teams should aim to create a spectacle that would appeal to a broad audience. “[Bastketball teams are] not just trying to get in front of hardcore basketball fans. They’re trying to bring every single person into that stadium to sell it out.”
While attendance and viewership numbers will be crucial metrics for the teams and leagues themselves, Davidson feels that brands need to look to softer metrics to measure the success of their partnerships with these esports leagues. In particular, affinity, loyalty, and positive sentiment on social media. “And I think it’s going to be up to the teams to set those expectations, and then it will be up to the teams and the brands to come together to activate. To come up with partnerships that add value to the community.
“Evaluate what the other brands are doing, follow them on social, see if there’s an increase in following, see what the comments are looking like. That’s going to be a big indicator if people are doing it right. The esports audience will definitely let you know. So if it’s positive, if you see positive comments under a non-endemic brand’s Twitter feed, watch them closely because you want to replicate what they’re doing.”
However, while Davidson encourages brands to look to other successful activations, he feels it is crucial that they understand the full scope of an activation. Often, a modern esports partnership will include activations at an event, but also some sort of expanded content on social media. “And so you replicate the event part, but you don’t replicate the content part and you’re not successful because you didn’t understand what the intricate piece of that success was.”
Finally, while OWL and CDL are similar in many ways, brands must understand that their audiences are not. Although both are first-person-shooters, the military-realism and mature rating of Call of Duty games appeals to a different type of gamer than the story-driven, more cartoonish themes of Overwatch.
“I think the main thing that brands need to understand is that in the same way that traditional sports has different demographics for games like basketball, you know, NBA and MLB, MLS, etc. You’re going to reach an NBA fan far more differently than a Major League Baseball fan because they’re not the same person. In the same way, an Overwatch fan is not necessarily a Call of Duty fan…they need to be treated as different audiences.”
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