Despite the huge global streaming audience that is estimated to watch gaming-related content, many eSports events actually attract low audience figures on television
Florence Lloyd-Hughes
Florence Lloyd-Hughes joined Sportcal as a news reporter in 2016, having previously spent time working with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and IMG Golf.
In the age of tech eSports on TV will never work
1st June 2017, 12:02

Computers, laptops, game consoles, iPhones, androids, tablets, smart watches and intelligent personal assistants (the robotic kind). Modern technology is a bit of a minefield.

As the age of streaming continues and Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and Netflix all jostle for market share, credibility and customers, it seems like our eyes will be glued to all those different screens for some time to come.

In the last few weeks I have rarely switched on my TV unless it was to watch sport. The FA Cup final, Football League playoffs, various international cricket games and Diamond League athletics have all captured my attention. Traditional sports matched with an old-fashioned viewing habit.

Something definitely not traditional and a complex challenge for much of the sports industry is eSports.

ESports is entrenched in tech, with elaborate computer software and systems paired up with high-performance sound and visual equipment, which all then requires a super-fast internet connection.


Gamers are among the most tech-savvy and tech-literate consumers out there, and as a result the streaming audiences for eSports have got everyone talking of billion-dollar revenues  

Gamers are among the most tech-savvy and tech-literate consumers out there, and as a result the streaming audiences for eSports have got everyone talking of billion-dollar revenues and viewing figures claiming to be larger than those of the NBA Championships.

The live stream of the 2016 League of Legends World Championship attracted 396 million total cumulative daily unique impressions, while the finals had a peak concurrent viewership of 14.7 million.

With numbers like those it’s no wonder brands are climbing over each other to get involved with eSports. 

But a difficult dilemma for traditional media and linear television is how eSports can fit in with their existing sports programming - if it ever will.

Despite the huge global streaming audience that is estimated to watch gaming-related content, many eSports events actually attract low audience figures on television. 

The 2017 League of Legends College Championship in Santa Monica, California

This year’s EA Sports Fifa Ultimate Team Championship was picked up by UK pay-TV broadcaster BT Sport and US sports network ESPN, but the latter only attracted a total audience of 40,000 for its coverage of the final day of the competition, according to Nielsen. 

Meanwhile, Sky Deutschland, the German pay-TV broadcaster, drew an average audience of under 5,000 subscribers for its coverage of the 2016 Virtual Bundesliga final, the German eSports competition based on the Fifa video game, and a total audience of 64,000 tuned into NFL Network, the American football league’s pay-TV channel, to watch an episode of primetime coverage of its Madden Challenge competition based on EA’s video game. 

One competition hoping to buck the low TV viewing figures trend is ELeague’s Street Fighter competition based on the popular late ‘80s video game.

Earlier this month the seventh episode of its season gained an average audience of 330,000 on US channel TBS, with 177,000 of those viewers coming from the 18 to 49 age demographic, according to USA's TNL Media. Hardly earth-shattering but it’s an improvement.


As we’re bombarded with news of the falling number of traditional pay-TV subscribers and the ‘millennial cord-cutters’, why is the (traditional) TV industry trying so hard to make eSports work? 

But as we’re bombarded with news of the falling number of traditional pay-TV subscribers and the ‘millennial cord-cutters’, why is the (traditional) TV industry trying so hard to make eSports work? As the two are so clearly not meant to be, it comes off as a desperate attempt to claw in a generation of viewers who would much rather watch something on a six-inch screen.

Twitch, the Amazon-owned live streaming gaming-related portal, is the go-to platform for any genuine gaming enthusiast. Whether for tutorial videos, live chats or competitive gaming streams, Twitch is by far the most popular platform when it comes to eSports.

So if eSports enthusiasts have access to a predominantly free service where they can access all the content they want and have a viewing experience that is immersed in tech enhancements, impressive visuals, engagement and interaction, why would they turn on the telly?

To put it plainly, they won’t. 

Television has worked so well with mainstream sports because innovation has been slow and steady. The addition of spider-cams, Hawk-Eye and super slow-mo has been staggered and successful, but eSports is different.

The television model that has been applied to traditional sports can’t be applied to eSports. The natural progression of sports from television to streaming is not one that will work with gaming. If something has already established itself in the online world, why take it back to the dark ages? 

Sportcal