SVGE Analysis: BBC reinforces esports’ mainstream appeal with League of Legends

The urgent need to chase the millennial is leading broadcasters to belatedly attempt to capture a share of the online phenomenon esports. The BBC is the latest to jump on the bandwagon and it’s a canny move designed to shore-up the youth audience for its soon to be online-only service BBC Three (the TV channel closes January).

Beginning October 15, the broadcaster will live stream professional video gaming for the first time. It will cover four days of action from Wembley Arena of the League of Legends World Championships quarter final. The semi-finals of the tournament, for which teams are competing for a prize pool of £1.387 million, will be held in Brussels and the final in Berlin on 31 October.

BBC Three online coverage will be hosted by video game personality Julia Hardy and Radio 1 DJ Dev Griffin and feature interviews with competing players and fans. The production is being handled by BBC Sport’s digital team and will mix live with pre-recorded video inserts, text, audio and social commentary.

Mainstream media has belatedly woken up to the entertainment’s potential. ESPN, which has dabbled in live streaming esports events in recent years — notably the championship final of Dota 2 on ESPN 3 in 2013 – recently signalled its intent to beef up coverage by creating the new role of esports editor. The job requires proficiency in League of Legends, Call of Duty, DotA 2, StarCraft 2, Hearthstone, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and more. ESPN notes that it is important for editors to know and understand the fantasy and gambling scenes surrounding these titles.

And no wonder. According to ESPN, 3.7 billion hours were spent watching or playing esports worldwide in 2014, and 89 million people are regular enthusiasts. The League of Legends final of 2014 was watched by 27m people online, according to ESPN, beating the final round of The Masters (25m) and only below that of SuperBowl XLVIII at 112m. Another esports final, Dota2, gained fourth place in 2014’s online viewing rankings with 20m ahead of the NBA finals (15.5m).

Any debate about whether professional video gaming should be classified as a sport seems redundant in the face of its growing popularity among an audience that is not just young and digital but global. That demographic is drawing big brand sponsorship from the likes of Red Bull, Nissan, Coke and Logitech.

In August, YouTube launched YouTube Gaming, a dedicated app and website to go head to head with Amazon’s Twitch. Amazon acquired Twitch in 2014 for close to a billion dollars, beating Google to the prize. Twitch now has around 55 million monthly viewers and over 1.5 million channel creators. According to The Guardian 10,000 of these were earning money from advertising by the end of 2014.

YouTube Gaming will feature 25,000 games, each with their own page alongside channels from game publishers and YouTube creators. There is a strong emphasis on live streaming.

“On top of existing features like high frame rate streaming at 60fps, DVR, and automatically converting your stream into a YouTube video, we’re redesigning our system so that you no longer need to schedule a live event ahead of time,” explained YouTube Gaming product manager Alan Joyce in a blog. “We’re also creating a single link you can share for all your streams.”

Some of YouTube’s biggest stars are gamers. Dan ‘The Diamond Minecart’ Middleton has 379m monthly views and 7.7m subscribers and earned $7.4m in 2014. PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) famed for his ‘Let’s Play’ walkthroughs with commentary, has 291m monthly views and 38.9m subscribers; Markiplier has 252m monthly views and 9.1m subscribers.

Production of the broadcasts are also growing in quality. Native digital content from within the games are ripe for streaming. On top of that, POV cameras capture shots of the gamers (their facial expression and hand movements); wider positions show the venue’s spectators watching talent on giant screens and replay systems are available to the live show’s producer. Mics on the gamers can pick up their reactions and commentary and VTs of player personalities can be inserted pre-show or during the show.

Vision mixers commonly used in outside broadcasts compile graphics, audio mixing and special effects with the stream published to social media and converted to H.264 for distributing online. All of the feeds can be controlled remotely over IP, which Red Bull Media House does from the dedicated esports studio it opened at its US headquarters.

Of the many other esports platforms, one gaining more attention than most is Hitbox. It launched at the end of 2014, has attracted around six million viewers, and want to target streaming to 4K displays.

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