Andy Swanson, VP and eSports evangelist for the Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch, isn’t exactly shocked with how quickly eSports has become a huge, international business. After all, it’s his company that’s widely credited with the game’s success, becoming the worldwide go-to host for watching others play games.
But he is surprised with how huge the space has become in such a small period. Swanson chatted with Next TV contributing editor—technology, Chris Tribbey, at length about the future of eSports, and where broadcasters fit into the mix. An edited transcript follows.
How do you explain this quick and explosive growth in the business of competitive gaming?
Competitive video gaming has been around, and by its pure nature— when you’re playing for points and difficulty levels—you can go back to pinball competitions to see that it’s been around. But the advent of the ability for people to watch these competitions around the world, the digital delivery experience where people can watch no matter where they are, has changed things. There’s always been a big gaming community, a strong grassroots drive at the amateur level, but now we’re seeing it at a global scale.
We use poker as an analogy quite a bit. People have been playing poker since the 1800s, but it wasn’t until people were able to watch it from the outside on television that it blew up.
Twitch has shared a lot of stats behind who watches and how much they watch. Do any of the eSports data points surprise you?
The fact that it’s global is very interesting to me, and having it being pretty evenly distributed globally. Think about baseball, basketball, football, with few exceptions—like soccer, which is late coming to the professional party in the U.S.—sports usually don’t have a huge international audience. The data points show that a lot of people who watch eSports don’t play the game they watch. A lot of people probably think these are all hardcore gamers watching others play their game, but the fact that people are watching games they don’t play proves it’s not only a participatory sport, but a spectator sport.
Turner’s May 24 eSports league launch won’t be the first time broadcasters have looked at the competitive gaming space. Should more broadcasters look at monetizing it, and what will it take for that to happen?
ESPN does its Heroes of the Storm program with Blizzard, Turner is there, we saw the NFL Network…do a show based on Madden, not focused entirely on eSports, but definitely focused on the competitive angle of that. I expect we’ll see more and more. The eSports audience tends to be younger, in that 13-30 age bracket, they tend to be cord-cutters, getting their content from a variety of [sources]. It’ll be interesting to see if eSports goes the other way, if it can be put back in the box. Turner is taking the hybrid approach, with their content [multiplatform]. They realize they can’t just say ‘tune in at 9 o’clock on channel 247 on DirecTV.’ They’ve got to cast their net wider.
For those who continue to scoff, what message would you relay?
It’s like any other generational entertainment shift, like the advent of radio, the advent of television, what VHS or Betamax were going to do to the movie industry, or Spotify with music. You can hold on to the idea that people are going to continue to buy DVDs or records, or you can see a shift in how a generation consumes content. We’re [witnessing] the birth of a new entertainment experience, and we can argue all we want whether these guys are athletes in the physical sense, but they are high level, competitive experts in their field, and they play competitions for a lot of money. And the fact that people will be able to get this content on multiple devices, anywhere in the world, will make it hard to slow down.