Google, Amazon, Twitter And Facebook Heat Up The Competition For The Esports Audience

Written By Joss Wood | Last Updated
Google (Alphabet Inc), Amazon and Facebook are three of the top ten largest public companies in the world, and they are now in frenetic competition to win the esports audience. Twitter may be small in comparison, but it is big in the social media space, and it too wants a piece of the esports pie. Twitch was the initial force that grew live streaming on the back of esports leading Amazon to buy the company in 2014. Google’s YouTube introduced live streaming in 2011, but only for select sporting events. It caught on to live streaming esports much more recently. Meanwhile, Facebook has been a comparatively slow starter, but last Friday’s announcement of a deal with ESL means that it aims to catch up quickly. Twitter is no minnow in the social media space, but its market cap of less than $20 billion makes it tiny in comparison to the three top tech companies. In March this year, it also struck a deal with ESL, setting its sights on the esports millennial demographic. Twitter will be live streaming over 15 events from major esports tournament series such as the Intel Extreme Masters and ESL One.

Facebook’s deal with ESL

At the end of last week, Facebook agreed with ESL to stream over 5,500 hours of esports events, including 1,500 hours of original programming. The deal goes into action in June when content from the CS:GO Rank S competitions will launch, accompanied by an exclusive weekly CS:GO show. Streams will go out on the ESEA Facebook page and its group page. Vice President of Social Media and Editorial at ESL, Johannes Schiefer said that the deal would mark “a huge step toward expanding the reach of esports among mainstream audiences.” ESL already has a major Facebook presence; Schiefer added:
“Last year, ESL content generated over 2 billion impressions and reached over 200 million users on Facebook globally. Now, with the addition of live streaming for all major ESL events, as well as exclusive content around CS:GO and ESEA, we are excited to expand our reach to more audiences and build strong local communities of highly engaged esports fans.”

Twitch still dominates esports broadcasting, but….

Twitch remains the number one esports broadcast channel, but its dominance may not last. In January 2016, ESL agreed an exclusive deal to stream its ESL CS:GO Pro League on YouTube. This was followed in March by another exclusive agreement to stream the Esports Championship Series (ECS). Seen as a competitive strategy, this suggests that YouTube is not seeking to beat Twitch on organic growth. Instead it is buying audience share with exclusive deals. YouTube now has exclusive rights over two of the top three CS:GO leagues. Maybe next will be Starladder’s StarSeries, the third largest league. If a deal goes through, then YouTube will have a de facto monopoly on the vast majority of CS:GO streaming hours.

Facebook may compete for League of Legends streams

Only a week before the deal with ESL was announced, Facebook sealed a deal with Major League Baseball (MLB) to stream 20 live, regular season games. MLB is taking more than one route to benefit from esports. At the end of 2016, its subsidiary BAMTech signed a deal with League of Legends owner Riot Games. The deal guarantees Riot a minimum of $50 million a year and extends to 2023. The Walt Disney Company owns a third of BamTech, for which it paid $1 billion in August 2016. Its aim is to produce live streams for ESPN, but it will also be looking to exploit social media live-stream opportunities. The deal to stream MLB on Facebook may provide Facebook with an advantage in negotiating with BamTech for LOL streaming rights. [geoip2 region=’ROW’][show-table name=betway][/geoip2]

Facebook is working the full length of the value chain

Facebook has also begun a process further down the value chain by striking relationships directly with esports teams. In April, Facebook made an agreement with Team Dignitas, now owned by the Philadelphia 76ers. At the time, Guy Cross, Facebook North America head of games partnerships, gave a clear indication of Facebook’s commitment to esports.
“As gaming video continues to grow across Facebook, whether it’s a live stream from a professional esports team or a player looking to share Overwatch with their friends, we are committed to being a go-to destination for gamers to play, watch and share the games they love with people around the world. As part of the Sixers, Team Dignitas is one of the most progressive esports teams in the world, and we can’t wait to see all the creative ways they’ll interact with and find new fans on Facebook.”
Five esports teams now have a direct contract with Facebook.

Can Twitch fight off the competition?

If exclusive broadcast rights to major esports competitions in CS:GO and LOL go to competitors, and esports teams strike individual deals with YouTube and Facebook, Twitch will have to seriously raise its game if it is not to lose its primary position. The stakes are high. A Newzoo report issued in February expects the esports audience to reach 589 million by 2020. That is more than double the 2015 figure of 235 million. Each social media channel has its own characteristics, and these may be the defining factors which will determine the winner in future esports live streaming. One active Twitch streamer from the world of poker has just decided to switch from Twitch to YouTube. Using Twitch analytics tools, Doug Polk explained his rationale in a video for his subscribers, and the content makes compulsive viewing for anyone interested in the relative merits of the different channels. The bottom line for Polk, is that Twitch effectively operates a winner-takes-all system, whereas the larger YouTube user base and more developed search engine gives smaller players a better chance of building their audience. Esports live streaming looks like it will benefit from a highly competitive landscape over the next few years. While there may be some audience fragmentation, high rates of growth appear to be inevitable. From an esports betting perspective, this growth is a very good thing. The total volume of any form of sports betting is closely related to the total audience size. Those operators who have put the investment into an attractive esports betting platform are likely to be major beneficiaries of the competition between the social media giants.