Hulu Adds Four Esports Series
Yesterday, Hulu and ESL announced a partnership to create four new esports shows to be released exclusively on Hulu. The shows cover a wide range of genres including an influencer talk show, a CS:GO docuseries, an esports history roundtable, and a highlight show from the biggest ESL esports events. The content will be developed by ESL and distributed through Hulu’s subscription based membership platform.
Developing and executing the production of high quality content is not an easy feat. For this reason, tremendous opportunity exists to fill this void in the market by creating compelling content for the millions of esports fans across the globe. The partnership between Hulu and ESL could prove successful in addressing this market need for several reasons but has other reasons that make me believe it could prove fruitless. Viewers will not be swayed by the ideas of the shows (in fact, these ideas have been contemplated and tried before) but in the execution and production quality of the content.
ESL owns the content rights to many of the largest esports tournaments due to its event production business. Bootcamp and ESL Replay, two of the four shows, will both feature footage straight from ESL produced events. The access to exclusive footage, behind the scenes moments and the competing teams’ preparation will be key advantages these shows will have that third-party production companies may not have the luxury of capturing. This “Hard Knocks-of-esports” idea has been thrown around before due to the success and fan affinity HBO’s series has produced. ESL allowed this level of access once before in the 2015 documentary All Work All Play that followed Cloud9’s LoL team through several IEM tournaments which are ESL produced events. However, this turned out to be poor press for the production company. The documentary catalogued the various ways in which a live esports event can be derailed and showcased ESL’s failures to the esports world.
We know that esports fans are accustomed to consuming esports content through OTT platforms, most notably, Twitch. This platform includes live competitive matches, individual streamer content and news/highlight shows that will compete and be complimentary of the content Hulu will begin distributing. Hulu’s demographics aligns closely with the average esports fan: Hulu has 47 million users with a median viewer age of 33. This segment shows plenty of overlap with measurements of esports fan age demographics giving us reason to believe that these shows will have a solid foundation of viewers already on the Hulu platform. The difference between Twitch and Hulu is the cost behind streaming the content. Hulu’s pay wall (minimum subscription of $5.99) while Twitch is a completely free service. I’m skeptical that the pure quality of these four shows will be so good that esports fans will subscribe to Hulu just to watch them, at least in the first season. With solid reviews and proper marketing, I could easily see an increase new subscribers next year.
Current esports scheduling issues
Last week, the esports calendar became a hot topic as Emil “Magiskb0Y” Reif, a member of the Optic Gaming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team, vented his frustration with the fact that the CS:GO schedule is released to the players and public with very little advanced notice of events. While Valve (the publisher of CS:GO) has recently transitioned its other premiere title, Dota 2, to a more predictable schedule with event timelines laid out for an entire calendar year, it has yet to implement a similar structure or level of predictability for CS:GO.
Scheduling is a problem not just for CS:GO, but for all esports. This issue affects every layer of the ecosystem: fans have trouble tracking events, players and teams are unable to make long-term plans or commit to certain tournaments because of uncertainty surrounding scheduling, and major events often overlap or bump up against one another. But most importantly, the lack of advanced, predictable scheduling acts as one of the single largest barriers to the monetization and growth of the industry.
Sponsors don’t just like predictability—in many instances, they require it. Sponsorship budgets are typically deployed in the previous calendar year. This means that if a competition organizer wishes to have the maximum potential sponsorship pool for its event, it needs to be able to be in the market selling that event well before it gets underway. Moreover, while some sponsorship initiatives are geared toward more general brand development, many focus on something much more specific: for example, a product release or quarterly sales targeting. Such a campaign must take place in a certain time window and in a certain geographic region in order to be effective, and no brand will allocate a percentage of that marketing spend to an event that may or may not line up properly. It should also go without saying that it’s very challenging to sell something when you don’t know exactly what it will be—what teams will participate, what level of viewership can be expected, how significant the event is to the overall esports calendar (e.g. is it a Major), etc.
There is a reason why you can find the dates and locations of the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, or World Cup years in advance—this level of planning fundamentally advantages all key stakeholders, and puts the sport itself in the best position to succeed. I’m glad that Valve moved Dota 2 to a more predictable system, but it should do so for CS:GO as well and other publishers and event organizers should follow suit; in fact, we’re starting to see this transition in the advent of franchised leagues for Overwatch and League of Legends. We should prepare the esports calendar not just one year in advance, but several. Doing so will require extensive work and collaboration, but it will be a pivotal step in promoting the sustainable growth of esports as a whole in the coming years.
The evolution of esports uniforms
Maddy Myers of Kotaku had an excellent piece yesterday on how esports team uniforms have evolved over the years from a modest look of a t-shirt and jeans to fitted polyester jerseys with joggers, as seen below:
This progression over the last 10+ years reflects the growing professionalism and attention on esports. As these teams have grown more competitive with one another for larger prize pools and top sponsor dollars, they have looked at a variety of areas to gain a competitive advantage. Teams are not only investing in facilities, trainers, and nutritionists but in uniforms that allow their players to stay as cool and comfortable as possible during game play.
As esports continue to evolve and delve further into the mainstream, I expect further innovation on player uniforms that allows for not only better performance but deeper fan engagement. Nike, which just retained the NBA jersey rights this year, recently released their new “smart, connected” uniforms that allow fans to scan an NFC chip on the jersey to watch player highlights and view player info on their phone. These integrations would work perfectly for esports uniforms as a simple scan could show player highlights, favorite game characters, and more. However for this to become a reality, either a major traditional sportswear company will have to get involved in esports on a much deeper level or an endemic esports jersey partner will need robust enough market penetration and sales to make this a financially viable feature.