Zach Oscar, esports and gaming consultant, cut his esports teeth in 2018 writing for MediaPost on the industry, and at the same time working for MRI-Simmons on its esports/gaming data offering. That combination enabled him to explore both the news and the measurement side of that business.
He has also done presentations on the topic to companies such as AMC Networks, Comscore, and Sinclair Broadcasting.
Most recently, he has been working with Simulmedia as the company enters the in-game advertising space.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Charlene Weisler: How do you define esports?
Zach Oscar: Esports refers specifically to professional, organized, regulated, sponsored multiplayer video game competition.
So why is there so much confusion? Games like “Fortnite” make people think that anyone who plays “Fortnite” plays esports. Unless you’re playing for a prize, in a regulated professional environment against other professionals, you’re not in esports, you’re a gamer.
Weisler: We talk about esports and gaming as the same thing, but there are obviously differences. Can you go into the differences and similarities?
Oscar: Both esports and gaming are about video games. Esports exists within the broader gaming ecosystem.
However, while all esports are video games, not all video games are esports. For example, some of the world's most popular game lines like “God of War” are not esports-capable, meaning they don't have a competitive angle through which multiplayer professional teams could compete for prizes and the championship titles.
Weisler: How does esports compare with traditional sports?
Oscar: In some respects, they are similar. Esports senior management have deliberately talked about how they parallel to the traditional sports world — for example, a developmental/high school equivalent, a minor league system, a major league system, and then a championship.
But there are differences.
The viewing experience between the two are very different, for example. If you're watching a football game, talking with friends or others about it requires you to either have friends in person, on the phone, or message through a third-party app not tied directly to the sports broadcast.
But places to watch esports like Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook Gaming all have chat capabilities integrated into the platform, and community engagement during these games is massive. People comment on gameplay, send funny memes, put in specific codes during the broadcast to try to enter to win prizes.It's a very unique experience.
However, the most crucial difference is ownership. In basketball, for example, no one owns the sport. The NBA is the league operation which regulates the game. Very rarely are any changes made.
In esports, the publishers and developers who create these games are often the owners of the leagues in which they are played, too.
The games change ALL the time. New characters, weapons, abilities, etc. can have a fundamental impact on the gameplay. So not only do [publishers and developers] regulate the play, but they also set the terms of the play itself.
Advertisers can work with publishers to find ways to get into the games themselves in an authentic and player-focused way.
League of Legends, for example, has recently announced a few partners for its in-game banner advertising, which will only be visible to people watching the esports competition online, not to the actual athletes playing the game. Mastercard is one of the first to get on this wave.
Weisler: How have esports evolved over the past three years?
Oscar: People say that esports are still not mainstream, but their presence has been creeping up for many years. Since 2016, competitions like the ESL Pro Counter Strike championship have been filling up massive arenas like the Barclays Stadium in Brooklyn, and acquiring major, almost unthinkable partnerships/sponsorships from big-name brands over the past year alone.
For example, Louis Vuitton, BMW, Gucci, and other unexpected advertisers have entered the esports scene.
Another trend is the experimental expansion of esports. Activision Blizzard, creator of “Overwatch” and “Call of Duty,” has begun attempting to create local team franchises based in the U.S. and abroad to foster a traditional sports-like following. Because of this, too, there is more planned esports-specific venue building, and therefore opportunity for regional sports networks to air competitions.
Plus, esports have acted as a substitute for traditional sports in lieu of COVID-19. Some professional athletes have held their competitions virtually, for fun, like NASCAR's iRacing virtual competition that took place earlier this year in lieu of normal races.
Weisler: Tell me about the demos for esports.
Oscar: According to MRI-Simmons' latest report on esports fans, around 47 million Americans are esports fans, which consists mainly of 18- to 34-year-olds, who make more than the national average income, which is around $60k.
Esports fans skew male, as is to be expected, by a roughly 60-40 split. However, we still need more data and insights into esports fans under 18 years old, since it is burgeoning for younger people.
Weisler: Where do you see esports three years from now?
Oscar: According to many projections, esports is set to grow to about $2 billion in worldwide revenue, with a CAGR of 23%.
I am not sure how that will play out, but viewership will continue to grow as more and more people start to use platforms like Twitch and YouTube for their mainstream entertainment. Esports is an integral part of that.