Beyond the insiders: How anyone can help grow local esports
By Rick Mortyson
Many esports writers and journalists have told us how big 2017 was for esports in South Africa, and it’s true. Several big money tournaments, both in terms of prize pools and production quality, featured last year. We had the Mettlestate Samsung Galaxy Challenge with a R1 million prize pool, we had ESL Africa season 1 and 2 and their subsequent LAN finals at rAge, and we also had VS Gaming bring us the Masters LAN finals for Dota 2 and CSGO (at EGE and rAge respectively) where each had R500,000 prize pools. We also saw several smaller showcases, cups, and competitions too over the year, which all made it sound very promising for our blossoming esports scene in South Africa.
I make a point of highlighting the prize pools here, but I’m only really telling half the story of the cost for tournament organisers (along with associated brands and sponsors) to hold events on this scale. I haven’t made mention of venue costs, staffing costs, flights, accommodation, connectivity, and the costs of marketing these events – expenses that can often dwarf these enormous prize pools. Looking forward now to 2018, how do we ensure that this momentum becomes sustainable to these tournament organizers, sponsors, and brands as events on this level (or even bigger) are staged going forward?
To look at how we, the average esports fans and content consumers, can contribute and help to do this we should spend some time appreciating the position tournament organizers, sponsors, and brands find themselves in for 2018. In years past the local esports events calendar consisted largely of rAge with the VS Gaming presence and some smaller events from smaller tournament organisers. Over the last two years an interesting shift has been happening thanks to a surge in the number of people wanting to experience these events live, and that means a new focus has been created – that of introducing more chances for those interested to get a spectator experience like we see internationally.Arguably the first move in this direction was moving the already established VS Gaming event from the basement to the main show floor at rAge, and we saw that happen in 2016 with the VS Gaming Masters event. This displayed both high-profile CSGO and Dota 2 on the main stage on the rAge show floor live to the expo attendees. Cue 2017 and all those big ticket events I mentioned at the start of the article. It was a big year for spectators of esports in South Africa, and with so much momentum people started to expect great things from 2018.
Esports in 2018: Bigger and better?
The real question is why are we yet to see a single big tournament announcement at the time of writing this article, except for the addition of Comic Con Africa. This is where VS Gaming will presumably hold the finals of their competitions this year. But besides this, not much else has really been announced. I casually noted the addition of Comic Con Africa to the events calendar, while in reality the addition of this event has a knock on effect that we will only really know the effects of later in the year. We now have two massive events (rAge and Comic Con) as well as several smaller events (like ICON, EGE, the ACGL minors, and RUSH amongst others). The brands that before could focus their marketing funding on a single event now have some tough decisions to make about how they go about spending that marketing money.
Sam “TechGirl” Wright, a prominent esports figure and someone with experience in the realm of marketing and brand involvement in the space, thinks this will pose a shift in the decision making behind this marketing spend.
“Brands might be decide to split their share of the pie amongst all the role players to get a measurement of what works and what doesn’t rather than focusing a lump sum of cash on a tournament or event. We’ve also got Comic Con being announced which also effects brand budget as they now need to consider splitting between two big events or focusing on one. The budget for expos is the same one those tournament costs come out of.”
Is this making brands more wary to provide large sums of money to these tournaments that offer huge prize pools?
“I don’t think the sponsors are being more cautious as opposed to trying to determine the best avenue. We have a lot of Tournament organisers now. Far more than last year this time. We also have an influx of streamers and teams and media platforms.”
Here is where things get interesting. We’ve seen it internationally for a while now where professional players turn themselves into a brand, along with their playing in teams. Wright believes that new sponsorship and collaborating potential is becoming more enticing for these brands – specifically streamers and influencer marketing.
“It is important to understand that the streamers, the consultancies, the TOs, the MGOs, the media platforms – they’re all fighting over the same pie now.”
This means either the brands that partner with these tournaments to provide these large prize pools either need to increase their marketing spend to keep the prize pools as big as we had in 2017, or diversify their spend, ultimately leading to those prizepools getting smaller to accommodate this.
“A giant LAN event with a 6 figure prize pool, whether at rAge or stand alone, costs a small fortune. That could potentially be allocated budget for the year. So spreading it out across various platforms and in to smaller tournaments that run throughout the year would make smarter business sense than one giant esports tournament which targets a scene still relatively new and growing. You need to allocate spend to in store activations, printed materials (those stands that you see notebooks on at your local computer store have to come from somewhere), digital media spend on your own channels, public relations, social and then some of that budget goes to an event.”
So what can we do about it?
Our focus as an industry (tournament organisers, players, broadcasters and fans alike) needs to shift. It needs to start driving a self-marketing model for esports. When brands give a tournament a piece of that marketing pie, it needs to provide them better return than a roadshow or a print advert and it’s ultimately up to us to make that marketing money work for the brand that chooses to invest in the esports scene.
“We need to have an increase of talkability and need to see growth in the viewer numbers and interest in SA esports. That’s on us as a community. If you’re a player or a broadcaster you should be engaging online, sharing stream links (and not just for your own games) and keeping the conversation going in a positive way that allows new people interested in esports to join in.”
The message here then is that no matter who you are in the industry, you have a responsibility to drive the industry in a positive way – engage on social media and have conversations about esports in South Africa. Drive viewers and people to participate in the scene by watching and attending events so that the brands that support it can see the return on their investment and choose esports over a stand for their notebooks in a computer retail store. The success of esports in South Africa is ultimately on all of us, not just the event hosts and tournament organisers.