More Than Just a Stream: Innovating the Esports Experience
The future of esports engagement.
Published on November 17, 2023
Filed under esports
With this blog, I'll try to spark conversation and imagination by discussing how we can innovate the Esports Experience.
Ars Futura is a digital design and development agency that, amongst other industries, does a lot of Esports work. We're super proud to say that we're an official partner of Activision Blizzard Esports, building everything digital from design to development on their flagship products. We've enjoyed working with other big names, like Halo Championship Series, Vindex, Esports Engine, Belong, etc.
But we’re not discussing Ars Futura, we’re here to see how we can innovate the Esports Experience and bring it to the next level. Before we jump to that, let’s talk about the love-and-hate relationship between Esports and sports.
When we're looking at Esports, we still see a lot of sports influence, which is fine. Esports is a sport of sorts. It relies on teams and players, the matches and leagues, and the crowd that follows everything. But, there are a lot of crucial differences that we need to take into account.
Esports is played in both the live and the digital environment, whereas traditional sports are only live. Esports has a global audience, doesn't care about geographical boundaries, and is more accessible. You don't need cable TV, and you have no channel restrictions. The only thing required is a computer or console.
The second key thing we must understand is the difference between Esports and Traditional Sports fans.
The average age of an NFL fan is 47; for hockey, it's 50; for baseball, it's 57. At the same time, an average Esports fan is around 26. This is a gap of almost 30 years.
Esports fans are digital natives. They were born in the late 90s and have grown up surrounded by technology. They're tech-savvy and early adopters compared to their boomer sports counterparts.
Esports fans are versatile, following multiple games and genres, leagues, and teams. Their loyalty isn't to a team that's grown in their hometown. They follow and cheer for different players all across the globe, and they usually follow more than one team.
This is where the traditional Esports Experience is lacking. While having a good old regular live stream, VOD, standings, schedule, and others is a must-have, the industry is evolving rapidly, prompting a need for innovation.
We must offer these tech-savvy, hungry beasts something more than just watching.
This is why I believe that with this desire for active participation, immersion, and control, the future of Esports should prioritize increased fan interaction through innovative digital products that foster stronger communities. Now, there are a million different things that we, as Esports builders, can entertain. I'll try to focus on a couple of feasible options that can be accomplished in the foreseeable future.
One of the first things that jump to mind are Fantasy Leagues and Pick 'em experiences. By providing these digital solutions for fans in pre-, live, and post-match states, we involve them in the game even more. By making predictions and building fantasy teams, you, as an Esports fan, are investing yourself more than before. Doing this live, you witness your imaginary team's and your pick's success parallel to the main event, bridging the gap between the actual game and the fantasy world through an adrenaline-fueled experience.
Continuing the previous topic about empowering viewers and enhancing the interaction with the game, there is much to be said about the viewer experience.
As an Esports fan, I sit on my couch and look at this directed live stream on Twitch or YouTube, see what the producers show, and hear what the casters say. Why not take it a step further and allow the viewers to choose player perspectives and switch between streams in real-time, self-direct their viewing experience, and take a first-person look at what their favorite player is doing. Let's take it another step further and let fans tap into the comms of their favorite teams. Let them listen in on team chats, gaining insight into the communication and strategies of a particular team.
These innovations add a new layer of immersion, proximity to the action, and understanding of the game. Redefining how fans interact with esports content, making it more engaging and informative. Viewer empowerment is at the forefront of esports innovation, offering fans unprecedented control and insight.
Another layer of viewer empowerment worth mentioning is the 3D space of a map — a feature-rich user interface that enhances immersion. Imagine dropping in Inferno and witnessing the action first-hand from the first-person experience. Being able to jump between all the players on the map and seeing their POV. There are significant advances in this tech done by platforms like Virtex Stadium and Skybox.gg.
Now we've covered a bit about the viewing experience, adding pick 'em and fantasy, allowing fans more control over their content, etc. Let's see how we can engage them even more.
We're all well familiar with Battle Passes, achievements, and challenges. We've seen this all throughout gaming, but this powerful tool has yet to peak in Esports. We can incentivize viewers to interact more with esports content, competitions, and communities through gamification. Give them more opportunities to return and spend time on our websites and apps. One of the cool things we did with CDL and World Series of Warzone is that we've created these interactive components that can be set up with every stream or VOD that would reward users for consuming content on our websites. The more videos you've watched, the better the rewards will become. CDL Pick 'em introduced challenges and rewards to their fans; the more picks you made and the better they'd be, you'd gain achievements and win prizes. The prizes would range from discounts on shops with CDL partners to in-game rewards like skins, double XP days, etc. This type of mechanic significantly boosted the user's engagement on the website. They spent more time there and submitted more picks than in the prior seasons.
There is this thing called FOMO, and a lot of us are suffering from it. And boy, oh boy, is it a powerful engagement driver. Last year, we developed a feature for the OWL mobile app that is basically a scavenger hunt; you'd have these QR codes spread throughout the Anaheim arena and shown on live streams. Each QR code awarded something different, from fan-designed assets to in-game skins and OWL Tokens. If you collect all rewards, you'll win a golden perk!
The results from just this one event are mind-blowing. The adoption rate for this feature was an astonishing 80%, meaning that 80% of the people who were a part of the OWL 2022 finals updated or installed the app and used this feature. It only took 2 months to design and develop it, and now it's used on events all across the globe.
Creating these one-of-a-kind promotions, unique items, and offers exclusive to specific events contributes to a sense of community and fan loyalty.
Lastly, something we're seeing on the rise just now is empowering fans and viewers to participate in the decision-making on a creator's stream or even with the gameplay. We're seeing more and more people using platforms like Epic Games' Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) or Roblox, where creators get to shape and build new experiences. I see that opening up APIs for these games and allowing people to participate in the game itself is the next step in this process. Imagine you're playing a Battle Royal game, and fans watching your stream get to decide what will be a part of your next drop. Incredible creator fan immersion. While this might not directly apply to Esports, something similar can be introduced in streams to tailor content per fan's wishes. Imagine watching a stream, but you decide what match gets broadcast or who gets interviewed in the break. It's all about fan empowerment.
In conclusion, the future of innovating the Esports experience is an exciting journey. The Esports industry is distinct from traditional sports in various ways, especially its digital-savvy and diverse fan base. To harness the full potential of this unique audience, we must evolve the Esports experience beyond passive viewing.
By embracing these innovations, we can elevate the Esports experience, making it more engaging, interactive, and tailored to individual fan preferences. This, in turn, promises to further solidify the bond between Esports fans and the games they love. The future of Esports is not just about watching; it's about actively participating, immersing, and empowering fans to be an integral part of the Esports ecosystem.
Let's innovate and elevate the Esports experience together!
This blog was created from a keynote talk and presentation at ESI 2023, the world’s biggest esports and games festival.
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