GamesBeat Summit 2024: Esports – the Power of growing community

A lot has changed over the last two and a half years in the esports industry. Industry-wide consolidation and cooling interests from venture capital inspired a panel on the esports winter at GamesBeat Next 2022. While the industry is still finding a new normal, we hosted a panel at GamesBeat Summit 2024, with Monica Dinsmore, Sr. director, esports and brand marketing at Electronic Arts, and Mike Sepso, CSO at ESL Faceit Group, to learn more about why publishers continue to invest and how service providers can drive in-game outcomes.

Both Dinsmore and Sepso agreed that the industry is in a period of right-sizing after investing into an industry that’s still developing a sustainable business model. However, esports competitions are still driving critical outcomes.

“At EA, we primarily see esports as a marketing tool. It’s pretty much the most effective marketing tool that we’ve seen. It drives engagement and it targets what we call the ‘white hot center’ of our player base,” said Dinsmore.

Esports helps EA reach its most engaged audience (and the players who spend the most), but it is also an effective tool to help the publisher re-engage lapsed players and teach new ones how to get better at their games.

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However, directly attributing outcomes to esports can be difficult, but EA wants to make sure esports is amplifying in-game activity. According to the publisher’s analysis of similar players, gamers who registered or engaged in a competition spend between two to five times more than their counterparts. 

“When you think about the audience, the activity and the engagement, it’s all moving up. In this world, if you can take people’s attention away from other things and hold on to them for a while, it’s very valuable,” said Sepso.

Growing the pie

While esports continues to drive engagement, part of supporting a thriving community is helping it grow. Both EA and ESL Faceit Group have made a number of efforts to support aspiring competitors.

All three of EA’s esports titles — Madden, EA FC and Apex Legends — have open events that all players can enter as a part of their ecosystems. “We call it couch to champion so anybody can participate, anyone can register and if you get enough points throughout the season, you can find yourself on the big stage.”

Madden crowned its first millionaire champion at Super Bowl LVIII.

Ultimately, the industry has shifted towards a hybrid ecosystem that combines the benefits of open amateur events and the stability of franchised leagues.

“We have the benefit now of history to be able to to tell that there isn’t just one fit for every game and every community in esports. You have to tailor it to the game, to the community, to the stage of the game,” said Sepso. “I think we now at least have tried everything you can.”

The conversation also touched on the significance of partnerships between publishers and tournament organizers. Monica highlighted the flexibility and technical expertise gained from such collaborations, enabling the expansion of esports programs without incurring internal expenses. Sepso emphasized the role of partnerships in creating sustainable growth models, leveraging resources to benefit players, fans and business objectives.

Of course, professional teams shouldn’t be overlooked. While neither Dinsmore nor Sepso could speak to their perspective directly, both highlighted unique approaches. Dinsmore pointed to EA FC partnering with real-world football clubs. Sepso highlighted the Esports World Cup Foundation’s Club Support Program, but “ultimately, it’s the team’s responsibility to figure out how to keep themselves in business and grow.”

Long term outlook for esports

Dinsmore and Sepso touched on their companies long-term strategy for esports.

Both EA and EFG are reaching out to other communities to help cultivate the next generation of fandom. EA FC and Madden collaborate with their real-world sports counterparts as a part of their esports programs. Additionally, EFG specifically designs its DreamHack events (among others) to welcome in other cultural communities.

Of course, EFG is also turning its eyes to the Middle East. Savvy Games Group, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, acquired and merged the esports conglomerate in 2022. This summer, EFG will operate the first ever Esports World Cup outside of Riyadh.

“Up until about 2 1/2 three years ago, nobody really had meetings where we were talking about the Middle East as a big market. But over 60% of the population is under 30. They’re all gamers,” said Sepso. “This enormous Esports World Cup system and having it take place in Riyadh serves two purposes. One, it’s providing a lot of capital into the system when it when a lot of it went away a few years ago… [and] it’s also exposing that fan base and that player base that doesn’t get to travel to L.A. or Singapore or Beijing.”