Coronavirus has spread to dozens of countries, infecting thousands and impacting everything from the global supply chain to the financial markets. And one industry that continues to get hit especially hard is live events.
So far, flagship events like SXSW, FOX and AMC’s TV Upfronts, Pearl Jam’s upcoming tour and the latest movie in the James Bond franchise, “No Time to Die,” have all either been canceled or postponed. And now, professional sports leagues from the NBA and FIFA to CS:GO are prohibiting in-person fan attendance. One thing’s for sure, no one could have anticipated these unprecedented measures and their effects across the board.
With E3 the latest event to be cancelled, this trend shows no signs of stopping, at least for the 2020 calendar. But one thing that is emerging because of it is the delineation between GAMING and ESPORTS. While the difference has historically been somewhat ambiguous, the Coronavirus has exposed a particular gap between the two in relationship to how it affects its respective live events.
Gaming vs. Esports
From industry tradeshows to community conventions, most “gaming” events are modeled to rely heavily on live, in-person attendees. These events were initially built on this foundation, and for the most part, have relied on exhibiting companies, outside partners and/or attendees themselves to digitally capture and livestream content.
In contrast, “esports” events have always placed a priority on livestream content and programming, because that is how they initially built their mass audiences. So while hundreds of thousands of fans were not allowed to enter the recent IEM Katowice CS:GO global championship event in Poland a few weeks ago, the livestream garnered record-breaking concurrent viewership and engagement metrics. E-commerce sales of merchandise and digital consumables spiked, and advertisers/sponsors most likely saw higher conversion rates.
For gaming events, consumers, exhibitors and attendees will undoubtedly continue to experience postponements and cancellations and lock-outs, especially in the short-term given the accelerating global impact coronavirus is having. Make it your top priority to create a digital content strategy and high-quality livestream program to reach your audience, including the millions that never could make it to your live event regardless. If you do this successfully, when (not if) this global health crisis subsides, you will have exponentially grown your brand and audience.
For esports events, innovate and pivot by creating a digital content strategy that goes beyond broadcasting the play-by-play to your audience. Create high-quality content that educates and entertains the larger audience through your sponsor brands and advertisers. Expand your format to include lifestyle and culture with high-quality original content series that capture a much wider audience, while staying true to your existing, loyal esports fan base.
For cities/markets, expand your application of economic incentives beyond “heads in beds”, to see the bigger picture and long-term impact by supporting livestream and broadcast programming and all levels. This includes everything from schools to local/regional game communities. Work with the event producers and focus your resources on content that turns viewers into visitors, and visitors into local talent (as in “I moved here because this place is filled with ‘my people’ and I want to live/work here”).
For venues, don’t just “accommodate” livestreaming in your facilities, make it a top priority and invest in expanding your broadcast-ready capacity and capabilities.
Digital distribution and livestreaming create digital viewing experiences that transcends in-person ticket sales, and create inclusive community-driven experiences for an even larger and diverse audience. This broadcast aspect is going to play an integral role in the future of live events - it’s just up to organizers to further develop and invest into, and up to the publishers to integrate non-gameplay, lifestyle and cultural entertainment experiences into their platform for event organizers to offer their ever-growing attendees.