Senior Vice President of Activision Blizzard Mike Sepso spoke to Gamereactor at Gamelab 2016 about esports and how developers can work to ensure that esports reaches as wide an audience as possible in order for it to become mainstream.
"We start with how big the gaming audience is, right?! Just with Activision Blizzard games we have over 500 million monthly active users, so we start with an audience that's double the size of Twitter for instance. So the capability to use the games themselves to distribute the broadcast content from esports competitions is really important for us.
"The other thing is just making the content itself more accessible and more like traditional sports and so we think that the more esports looks and sounds like traditional sports the larger the mainstream audience will be".
We asked Sepso whether he thought that esports viewership was more suited to a younger generation.
"The interesting thing about esports is that it's really the first sport that's grown totally through digital broadcasting, not traditional television at all, so it's really focused on consumers that spend most of their time consuming video through the internet and mobile versus television and so there's an entire older generation, an older audience, that never sees the content so they don't really know it exists.
"I mean that's started to change because we're putting more of it on linear television in the US and Europe especially. But I think really the sport itself is native to digital and I think just as the digital audience grows so will esports".
He also discussed whether age impacts participation in esports too: "We've already seen some players be able to play later into their twenties at least, which I think is good. I mean it's not that different from traditional sports though - it's tough to be a top football player when you're over 30, you can't keep up with the younger players and their skill and technique.
"But I think the difference is, in all sports, esports included, older players have so much more experience and knowledge about the game and strategy and teamwork and all those things. That will lengthen careers in my opinion over time. The capability to be a veteran player, to really understand the game and strategy and leadership of a team I think is a key component of it, so it's very similar to traditional sports. I think currently players in most first-person shooter games start to lose their speed in their mid twenties and so the career's pretty short, it happened to me, but again it's not that different from basketball or football for instance, where speed and athletic ability are a really key component of your competitive ability".
When discussing how to increase engagement and awareness, Sepso said that "we really feel that it's imperative on us to produce content that's not just focussed on the core esports audience, but more accessible to a wider mainstream sports audience. So if you watch a Premier League broadcast or an NBA broadcast, there are a lot of similarities with how traditional sports are broadcast on television, and with esports most content is being created for existing fans and so there isn't enough of the storyline development of the players, there isn't enough celebrating the players as celebrities, there isn't enough drama. We watch football, we're more interested in if Messi is leaving the Argentina team than we are that kick he got, right? So the technical aspects of any sport are important to the really hardcore audience that plays the game but it's the storyline and drama of sports that are important to a mainsteam audience, and that's what we're really focussed on".
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