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The state of esports today and what needs to change

This article originally appeared on SportsPro. Dom Tait, Omdia’s practice leader for games, music and audio, offers his takeaways from a recent roundtable on the importance of security in esports.

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Covid, capital, cheating and convergence were top of mind for the attendees at a closed-door esports roundtable recently hosted by Omdia.

The roundtable, sponsored by Verimatrix and titled ‘Leveling the playing field – the critical role of security in esports’, brought together experts representing the breadth of the esports industry – teams, events, networks, publishing, broadcasting, associations, and threat intelligence platforms.

In a lively debate the participants brought their expertise to a wide range of subjects including the current state of esports, how the revenue model is structured, how comparisons between esports and traditional sports stack up, and the risks that currently face the industry.

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Unsurprisingly, the global pandemic was a major topic for all attendees. Engagement with esports has, understandably, increased during lockdowns, but as to whether that had also increased monetisation was very much dependent on where in the industry each player was positioned.

For the events specialist, online-only events meant they needed to find efficiencies and provide value digitally to sponsors. The challenge now is being to apply those learned efficiencies to the physical environment as those kind of events return.
However, for the publishers who saw an increased audience during lockdown, the issue was how to retain engagement with new formats and other innovation.

A topic that consistently arose was what esports could learn – such as monetisation models in real life sports – from other industries. But interestingly, the representative from the broadcaster flipped this by asking what traditional sports could take from the esports world for their customers. The network specialist was explicit that the focus must be on what esports can and should be doing differently rather than following other models.

For example, the threat intelligence platform representative made the point that with sponsorship being such a difficult budget expense to sign off and brands wanting to find ever more granular data on return on investment (ROI), esports’ digital foundation means that it could own this crucial issue.

Defence against the dark arts – cheating, hacking and piracy

When the conversation turned to what might be described as the dark arts of gaming and esports – cheating, hacking, piracy, and even match fixing – the attendees offered great insight.

From the broadcaster’s perspective, a large spike in internet traffic in turn means network security is becoming a larger concern across the entire transmission chain, thus partnerships with security providers are needing to be ramped up.

On the threat intelligence platform side, the representative noted a “huge explosion” in hack attacks on mobile, with apps frequently going unprotected and nobody really holding companies accountable for security until it’s too late – the recent hack of Twitch being a salient example.

The event specialist also pointed the increasing value that consumers place on their digital wallet, while vouching for the false sense of security on mobile, describing those devices as “the biggest gateway into your digital kingdom.”

The esports team member discussed the need for education on the subject to prevent it at cause, while warning how difficult it is to put checks and balances on a player’s behaviour when they’re entirely online. Meanwhile, the network expert emphasised how the cornerstone of competition is a level playing field, and that’s something that “needs to be owned by all members of the industry.”Finally, participants were asked for the most exciting future aspects of esports. The association member noted the youth of today’s esports decision makers, which brings energy but not always experience. They noted, however, that over the next five to ten years that experience will be gained, leading to further professionalism of the space.

Convergence was the other major theme, with the events organiser talking about the gamification of traditional sports and the virtual aspect of esports being natural partners, as well as hybrid sports coming into play via augmented reality (AR). This was, they noted, a trend that would sit well both with mass audiences and with parents, the latter being an important group given esports’ demographic. They were backed up by the broadcaster, who commented that if one was to begin a new sports category in 2021, it would require a gamification or esports function to reach the desired audience.

With esports seeking to reach the non-gaming sports fan (a fact backed up by the publisher), and new sports targeting the gamer demographic, the convergence of physical and virtual is becoming ever closer.

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