The first three entries were about the professional side of the industry, but I also have ideas for improving the community side. Companies can create a sport out of anything really, but the only ones that last have good viewer numbers. No matter how much fans pay directly, they cannot bear all of the costs of the sport. A lasting sport needs sponsors, and that requires good viewer numbers. I feel there is one huge change that could be made to attract more viewers to Starcraft 2 eSports. It is simply tape-delayed broadcasting.
The Olympics come every 2 years, alternating winter and summer. For the most part each year’s games takes place in a different city. Many times this city is across the world in a completely different time zone from the local viewers’ time zone. To increase viewership, the broadcasters tape delay the broadcast. Usually, they will have a live broadcast and a tape-delayed broadcast. People that want to see it live can stay up all night watching it. Otherwise, they can watch it during primetime in their local timezone.
The average person does not stay up all night to watch the Olympics. They only watch it during primetime. If there was no tape-delayed broadcast, most people would not watch at all. They might catch the highlights in media, such as radio while driving to work, but they would very likely not see any of the events. Their interest is just not at that level. Only the biggest fans stay up late to see it live. Just like the Olympics, Starcraft 2 eSports is global. There are events happening all over the world. We need tape-delayed broadcasts.
I live in the United States. Major League Gaming, IGN Pro League, and North America Star League are all easy for me to watch. Almost all of the events are in the normal waking hours. The big finals are always in the evening in primetime. However, the events in Europe & Asia are much harder to watch. The big European events are usually in the early part of the day, around 6-10am when I am at work. The big Asian events are around 12-4am when I am sleeping.
When the Global Star League first came out, I tried to stay up to watch the matches, but I just felt too tired the next day. I eventually gave up doing that and just watching events that were earlier in the evening or on the weekend when I could sleep in the next day. Over time even that became impractical as the game times were moved later to around 2am instead of the previous 12am. I could do it on the weekend, but it just was not worth it. They lost my viewership.
Europe has been even worse since I am always at work on the weekdays. On the weekends I have to get up early to see anything. I am not a morning person at all, so that was out of the question. I am not a huge fan that is willing to do anything to see the games. I am just a regular Joe interested in watching a little eSports. I know there are many more like me who do not watch a lot of eSports because of the times they are on.
One thing we do have in eSports is Video on Demand (VOD). This allows people to view game recordings after they have happened. The problem with this is they usually are not free. Cost definitely factors into this. The majority of viewers are not willing to pay to see an event. They will just skip watching it if the live broadcast is too far out of their viewing range.
The Olympics broadcasts are quite different. The live broadcast is available late at night, but they also replay most of that during primetime. The viewers get to see the biggest events without having to sacrifice time or money. Like eSports the broadcasters also create VODs for the events and post them on a website, but unlike eSports, the VODs are all free. You can go to the website check out all the events and watch them on your own time entirely free. These two things greatly increase the viewership of the Olympics.
The big worry would be how will eSports survive without viewers paying money? They will survive with sponsors. The Olympics works because it has millions of viewers, so advertisers are willing to pay millions for commercials and tie-ins with the broadcast. eSports needs to go this route. If they get the viewer numbers up with free content, advertisers will show up to reach those players. eSports watchers are almost entirely the 18-34 demographic that advertisers crave so much.
I am not saying that eSports organizers should not charge at all. Each tournament has hundreds of games played. Only a few of these are important enough to be tape-delayed and have free VODs. I would only tape-delay and provide free VODs for the finals of big tournaments. Maybe a few other highlighted games could receive the same treatment, but most content would have only a live broadcast and paid-for VODs. I also do not think all tournaments need to do this, only the big ones.
I have written this from a U.S. point of view, but it applies to viewers in other countries just as much. You have a few tournaments in your area you can watch easily, but everything else is an annoyance to watch. Tournament organizers having to tape-delay for the whole world is not feasible, but another example can be taken from the Olympics.
Regional broadcasters “pick up” the broadcast to tape-delay until primetime by paying the organizers. The regional broadcasters make up that money from the advertising in the local region. A percentage of that advertising money also goes back the organizers. Making the change to tape-delayed broadcasting would greatly improve viewership, and thus, greatly increase revenue to the eSports industry.
Improving Starcraft 2 eSports is an ongoing series where I discuss how the eSports scene could be improved. You can read all of these posts by heading to the category page.