A Tale of Two Esports Scenes: NBA 2K and FIFA
EA Sports will be launching the largest FIFA esports competition to coincide with the launch of FIFA 18 on September 29th with one player eventually being named the Global Champion. The competition will build off of their preexisting Interactive World Cup and take place over the course of a year. Players will have four main ways to compete, including:
- Official football league competitions – Players will have the opportunity to represent their favorite real-life club through official league competitions.
- FIFA Ultimate Team Champions Cups– Open to all eligible players, this mass entry tournament starts with online matchmaking with top players qualifying for live events this winter and spring.
- New FIFA Interactive Club World Cup – An All-Star tournament featuring players signed to clubs.
- Top-tier competitive gaming organizations will help us deliver even more ways for players to compete at the highest levels.
Right now, the two most established esports scenes for sports titles are FIFA and NBA 2K. FIFA regularly leads all sports games in overall Twitch viewership with NBA 2K coming in second. Despite being the same genre, the esports scenes for these respective games have developed in fundamentally different ways.
Similar to Riot controlling the esports scene around League of Legends, 2K has built the competitive ecosystem within NBA 2K. Starting with 2K16 they held theRoad to the Finals tournament that began on February 15th 2016 and culminated at the 2016 NBA Finals. In 2017, they shortened the tournament to begin on December 31st and culminated at NBA All-Star Weekend. Each year, players formed their own teams to compete for a prize of $250,000. Most recently, 2K partnered with the NBA to launch the eLeague (final name TBD) that will feature 17 of the 30 NBA teams fielding their own teams in NBA 2K. This league will also reportedly feature a draft and player salaries.
In comparison, FIFA has had a more decentralized approach with EA Sports creating the FIFA Ultimate Team Championship and FIFA, in partnership with EA, creating the FIFA Interactive World Cup. In addition, several professional soccer clubs like Manchester City and FC Schalke 04 have signed their own top FIFA players to represent their clubs in tournaments. As seen above with EA Sports and FIFA’s most recent announcement, they are trying to centralize this complex ecosystem by pulling from each these various tournaments and platforms to create one encompassing tournament that pros and fans will have the opportunity to participate in.
Given the international appeal of soccer and being the leading console title in the world in terms of sales, I’d say this new EA Sports FIFA competition has the highest ceiling in terms of viewership and overall fan engagement. It will be interesting to see how fans react to watching professional esports teams play against professional soccer clubs and individual gamers as well and if this affects the competitive balance at all. I believe the NBA 2K eLeague has a distinct advantage in its clear and concise team associations with professional NBA teams. Furthermore, given the relatively deep monetary investment of each of these NBA teams (they have to pay the salaries of 5 players versus 1) and previous esports experience of many NBA teams (Warriors, Bucks, Wizards, 76ers, etc.), I’d expect deeper fan integrations and activations to promote their 2K counterparts and to really develop this asset.
Both leagues are hoping by elevating their esports products with these leagues/competitions, their esports viewership will increase (both games’ viewership is relatively small compared to established esports like LoL and CS:GO) and provide a strong digital asset that will connect them to future fans and increase the overall value of their media rights packages in the future.
ESL and Intel Announce Exclusive Partnership
Yesterday at E3, Intel announced a landmark deal that will see them become the Global Technical Partner of ESL. In the role, Intel will provide cutting edge PC’s for ESL competitions as well as high-performance processors for optimal streaming. As of now, the partnership is set to benefit at least eight upcoming ESL tournaments and circuits.
Also included in the deal is the creation of the Intel Grand Slam, an additional $1,000,000 prize awarded to the first team to win four out of the last ten CS:GO events held between Dreamhack and ESL. The Intel Grand Slam will be an annual offering, with the “win counts” resetting each time the prize is claimed.
The recent trend of major tech companies pouring money into esports continues, but the latest, Intel, certainly isn’t a new face, having invested in esports for over 15 years. The partnership with ESL is, however, their largest commitment to date and exemplifies their dedication to improving the quality of the esports experience for both players and fans. The advancements of technology and sports go hand-in-hand as innovations in the fan experience continue to bolster the popularity and accessibility of traditional sports. Esports could and should become a leader in this space, capitalizing on the indelible link between the two.
While the top of the line equipment provided by Intel makes up the bulk of this deal, the announcement of the Intel Grand Slam should also grab eyeballs. The grand prize adds a serious incentive for the best teams and players to compete in more ESL events, fostering more consistency and competitiveness in the ecosystem. In addition, the Grand Slam should draw additional attention to events that may have lacked the same organic excitement. Larger prize pools naturally garnish more attention and the potentially enormous payday will certainly bring that.
Imagine this, a team is on the brink of securing their fourth win and receiving the million dollar grand slam with one of ESL’s smaller competitions on the horizon. With the potential for an increased payout, the typically small tournament now becomes a focal point for the entire CS:GO community and a major must-watch event.
All in all, the Grand Slam adds a unique dynamic to the CS:GO circuit that should produce engaging storylines and larger audiences. ESL and Intel have found something here that is innovative, interesting, and, most importantly, replicable throughout the entire esports ecosystem.