Opinion: Mainstream brands are at risk of being left behind by the digital generation

ESL UK’s co-managing director Spike Laurie discusses the new media behavior of the next
generation, and why mainstream media and brands must pay very, very close attention

I still take some relish when I reel off the statistics of this phenomenal industry, despite it being the umpteenth time I’ve invoked these well-rehearsed, yet astounding numbers.

235m people engaged with eSports in 2015, over 160m hours of ESL content was consumed on Twitch last year, over 27m unique viewers tuned in to watch ESL One Cologne…

Inevitably it dawns on people that eSports is not an up-and-coming niche, but it’s here, and it’s huge. How could they have missed this zeitgeist? What can they do to ‘tap into’ this opportunity?

It certainly isn’t bold of me to say society in general has undertaken a massive tectonic shift over the last decade. The media channels that we once derived our information and content from now hold little power over us, and what was once a teeming and vibrant landscape of TV and print lies dead and barren to an entire generation. The digital generation thrives on channels like Reddit, YouTube, Twitch and Snapchat, consuming and learning from these new media, media which, to the non-digital native, seem impenetrable and enigmatic.

It is within this digital realm that eSports prospers. It is as much part of the DNA of a millennial today as traditional sports are of our parents. I can remember far more vividly defending a six pool rush in Starcraft 2, or AWPing down banana on de_inferno in Counter Strike 1.6, than I can one of the many West Ham matches I witnessed as a kid (OK, maybe apart from Julian Dicks stamping on that other player’s head). Heaton, Fallen, WhiteRA, SonicFox, all names which hold as much meaning today as any professional sportsperson or celebrity. Names that have captured the imagination of millions inspiring them to aspire.

And herein lies the rub, ‘mainstream’ media and brands are in danger of becoming irrelevant to the eSports generation. Not because they are unable to harness this digital movement, but because they have been blind to it, unable to comprehend the very material of its being.

One of the inevitable questions one receives at eSports or video games conferences is from traditional broadcasters, and it boils down to how traditional sports are delivered to the consumer. The company pays a large amount of money for exclusivity around a sport or event, and then charges the end user to access that content. A completely viable business model, yet completely anathema to the digital generation. A generation that doesn’t remember Napster, a generation that grew up with fibre broadband, a generation that doesn’t own a single CD or DVD yet can access any film or song at the click of a mouse.

I even once had someone from an anti-piracy company come up to me and tell me they were happy to do a scan for us on one of our events to determine how many people were accessing our content for free. Where does one begin?

What I’m not saying is that it’s too late for the mainstream, in fact I wholeheartedly believe there’s no better time than now to dive into eSport. But that’s exactly what it requires, a deep dive, for unless one really immerses oneself into this incredible world, the rewards will always seem elusive and gossamer.

2016 has been a bold and pivotal year for eSports, despite the absence of the big brands and media, the question is, with 2017 set to be even more impressive, do they want to be left out again?

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