esports [xplayn]ed

Table Of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Bring On The Bullshit
  3. The Missing Numbers
  4. My Platform; My Numbers
  5. Real People; Real Views
  6. How To Properly Evaluate Numbers
  7. Potential Esports Bubble
  8. Sources

Introduction

Esports has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the past 20 years. From nascent BYOC LANs that no one knew about, to filling stadiums and streaming to millions around the globe. Accompanying these successes are the numbers. Unfortunately, not all of the numbers thrown out in media headlines are accurate or even within the realm of plausibility. This is especially true of viewership figures. The most recent headline being:

Recent tournaments overview

One basic truth about statistics is that they are easily manipulated or misinterpreted. No one does this better than marketers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in esports. Statistics regarding viewers, new records, and world firsts are almost a weekly occurrence. Sometimes this comes down to lazy mainstream journalism, and sometimes it comes down to deliberate attempts at misleading people.

Regardless of the original intention, a lot of numbers that fly around the esports industry are out of context, poorly framed, or utterly nonsensical bullshit.


Bring On The Bullshit

The reason(s) why I decided to write this article are many. But the few cases that recently caught my attention are below. The reason these caught my attention is because I see esports professionals who have been in the industry for over 15 years re-posting this crap without a second thought. These people are leading organizations all across esports today, from teams to leagues to funds to service providers.

Newzoo Nonsense

Newzoo is the premiere statistics provider in esports. Almost all other stats platforms and whitepapers cite Newzoo as a primary source. The statistics below were so big that Newzoo focused their annual report around them as key points of learning, and also created two follow-up infographics. And they're bullshit.

Newzoo state in their Global Esports Market Report 2019 that the Average Revenue Per Viewer (ARPV) is $5.45 USD. This is based only on using the "esports enthusiasts" and the full revenue figures. This means that 55% of the viewership figures are literally worthless across esports, according to Newzoo. The actual ARPV goes from $1.97 in 2017 to only $2.78 at the end of 2022. A far cry from $5.45. Now Im sure the esports enthusiasts are likely worth more over their lifetime than a regular viewer. But to conclude that 55% of the audience is worthless is a bold claim.

Recent tournaments overview

Additionally, it seems Newzoo is expecting a crash in the esports industry between 2019 and 2022, as the average annual increase in revenue remains the same for four years straight. Average revenue per new user declines by 7% for the three year period (2020-2022), and the annual increase in ARPV is also halved to $0.12 during the same period. So it would seem the esports industry is in for 1-2 rough years before eventually recouping. Or Newzoo is lazy.

League Of Legends Is NOT Bigger Than The Super Bowl

Despite what you've read on Dotesports, CNBC and likely many others, esports are not coming close to being bigger than The Super Bowl. Many media outlets read the headers, took a quick glance at the infographics, used absolutely no critical thinking skills and ran with the headlines. Casino.ca published an article filled with various gaming and esports viewership statistics as a kind of thought piece on how big gaming has gotten.

Recent tournaments overview

View Full Infographic Here

In short, most major traditional sporting broadcasts are evaluated solely on an American audience. Nielsen also qualifies a single view as someone who watched the program from start to finish. Esports view counts on the other hand consider any single click from anywhere around the world (except China) as a view. The LoL 2017 World Championships also lasted 136 hours, whereas the Super Bowl lasts only 4. Not exactly a fair competition, wouldn't you say?

Additionally, we have no third-party verification of esports numbers. All sports broadcast numbers are provided by reputable third party service providers. To this end, the original article stating 80M Unique Views published by RIOT Games, no longer exists. The only stats available now are by ESCharts, and they do not match.

The sad part is, if any of these journalists bothered to do their jobs, they would have read the paragraph-long caveat right below the infographic explaining such:

Recent tournaments overview

Just for funsies though.


Missing Numbers

Out of all of the numbers we do receive in esports, we sure miss a lot. Besides the proper statistics that would actually give an accurate picture of the health of a piece of content or the industry as a whole, we also miss entire sources.

For instance:

  • In-game streams
  • Re-streams
  • Regional streams

Part of the problem is that it is difficult to monitor all of the streams in question as access may be limited. The other huge issue is getting accurate reporting from different platforms.

The advent of in-game client streaming is a wonderful thing. Sadly, we do not have awareness on the viewership statistics of this method of viewing content. At most we receive a heavily edited infographic with unverified publisher given numbers. Yet another argument for third party verification. How are teams or potential advertisers supposed to accurately evaluate distribution methods if they cannot get their hands on reliable information?

Re-streams not considered alongside the main English streams are also a pain point. The peculiar thing of note here is that these would only help pad the total stream numbers, so why not include them? We are already looking at a global English audience, so it isn't like we are muddying the waters by including additional regions in "total viewership" figures. That said, there should be individual regional viewer counts so advertisers can sift through and understand the situation.

Which brings us to certain regions and streaming platforms - especially in Asia. The numbers coming from Asian streaming platforms are always a mystery. Some are incredibly low, and some astronomically high. Most just don't exist. Rarely are they counted in the totals, which further fuels scepticism of their legitimacy when they do surface. With two of the biggest esport countries in the world (China and Korea), you would think accurate viewership statistics would be a point of interest, but alas that is not the case.


My Platform; My Numbers

One thing people need to realize about the numbers we do receive is that they are still subject to speculation.

My former boss once told me a story about a platform he was trying to work with to conduct advertising on. He said the numbers of viewers, etc, were extremely high. He questioned the platform owner about the legitimacy of the viewership statistics, to which the owner replied, "my platform; my numbers".

Although this isn't the express attitude of platforms in esports, it may as well be. We do not have consistent third party tracking to verify that the numbers we are fed are not toxic. This issue is plaguing the world of digital advertising and esports is no different.

Some third party solutions for investigating web traffic, such as Alexa and SimilarWeb are also inaccurate, by as much as 20% high/low. That is a huge spread. So make sure you consider your sources.

One big step in the right direction, although a seemingly slow and expensive step, is the introduction of Nielsen to esports and gaming. Nielsen is the industry leader in television ratings and as such as a strong reputation of having high standards and giving accurate information. However, their progress in esports has been relatively slow. Numbers put out by even the biggest tournament organizers and publishers in the world are still not verified.


Real People; Real Views

Padding views is not new. It has been plaguing the digital advertising industry for many years. Verifying whether or not audiences are bought or not is a big concern, as those additional tens of thousands of views may not even be real people.

Third party verification is a necessary next step in esports' development. It is bad enough we don't receive many numbers to begin with, but not knowing how grounded in reality those numbers are is also troubling. The example above is just one easy way to boost traffic, engagement, ratings, and other metrics used to gauge success. This is only the tip of the iceberg however.


How To Properly Evaluate Numbers

Understanding what you are looking at and how to interpret it is very important when approaching statistics. It is very easy to be fooled or confused as numbers can be manipulated and framed to the authors desire. Here are a few tips to hopefully help you on your way.

Peak Viewers

Peak viewers represents a single point in time where the number of people watching as at its highest. It is not total views, nor total unique views. It is an almost meaningless number by itself.

Total Views

Total views represents the amount of times the stream/broadcast was opened. I could start a stream and have a friend open and close it 100 times. That does not mean I had 100 viewers. It means that an unknown amount of people viewed the stream/broadcast 100 times.

Total Unique Views

Total unique views represents the number of individuals who have opened the stream/broadcast. This is also relatively meaningless without Average Time Watched to provide context.

Average Time Watched

Average time watched represents the duration an individual spent watching the stream/broadcast. Typically this is not provided, and you must calculate it by taking the Total Time Watched and dividing it by the Total Unique Viewers. (TTW/TUV = ATW)

What People Watched

This is a huge issue in esports. Even if we have all of the above, we still have no awareness on what people actually watched. So if I am the owner of Fnatic, I would want to know how many people tuned in and watched my players play and for how long. To put this into perspective, you could be a professional team in the biggest league, and have nearly no one watch you - yet the event-wide statistics break records. Context is important.

My ultimate fantasy would be for someone to do a study on people watching esports streams to use eye-tracking hardware and create heat maps for where people actually look during the stream. I have a succinct feeling that a lot of those overlay ad placements are worthless.

In general if you are evaluating content, these are some things you want to be looking at as well:

  1. Completion rates — this is what you really care about in relation to total views. How many people watched until the end? Did they miss your CTA or other vital information? Why did they leave? Did they all leave for the same reason?
  2. Engagement — how many people commented sincerely*? How many shares? Sentiment**?
  3. Conversion — how many people did what you wanted them to do***?
  4. Demographics — how many people you care about actually did all of the above? If your product only sells in Argentina, and 99% of your data is from Sweden…those numbers look nice, but they really suck.
  5. Traffic Sourcing — Where did the good ones come from?
  • 1*— Comments like “wow nice!” or “That’s an awesome story/photo!” may be genuine, but they also may be bots looking for “follow backs”. Look for sincere comments asking questions or sharing similar/different perspectives/stories, etc.
  • 2** — Thumbs up or thumbs down? Angry face on facebook? Negative comments? Emails or DMs? etc. Don’t forget to check for comments on the pieces that get shared — conversation is not exclusive to your pages.
  • 3*** — How many clicked the URL in the description? How many shared the video at your request? How many signed up to X? How many visited X? How many used your promo code? etc.

Potential Esports Bubble

These bogus numbers will catch up with esports eventually. When the most recent wave of investors realize that their money is used mainly as a stop-gap for organizations rather than fuel to propel them forward and help with monetization (they should be focused on community first), the money will stop flowing. When you look at the actual size of esports it is incredibly small. There are too many incumbents and too little fans to support them.

We've already witnessed similar market events in the past (does no one remember MYM?). Now, Im not saying this number problem would be the sole cause for a market collapse, but it is a key component as they fuel false hopes and expectations.


Sources

  1. Esports Revenue Growth Newzoo Infographic (Feb, 2019)
  2. Esports Audience Growth Newzoo Infographic (Feb, 2019)
  3. Newzoo Global Esports Market Report 2019
  4. DOT Esports Article
  5. CNBC Article
  6. Casino.ca The Growth of Video Game Streaming
  7. League Of Legends 2017 Events By The Numbers - related search results
  8. ESCharts LoL 2017 Event Statistics
  9. Matthew Brennan Click Farm Video

Additional Resources: