The first Sports Business Chronicle annual look at the trends/hot-button topics to follow for the next calendar year kicks off this week. It’s a project I’ve done the past few years with Forbes and so I wanted to continue doing it with the still new company/website. I personally learn a lot about how the industry is moving forward. Hopefully, you will as well.
There’s roughly a dozen articles that we’ll publish throughout this week and into next week around esports, technology, digital/social, brand marketing, media and agency, among other niches in sports.
We begin with esports, where we asked executives: what are the trends/hot-button topics you’re following as it relates to esports heading into 2018, and what is your big, bold prediction for the space next year?
You’ll find that the two questions for most of these articles are similar — that’s on purpose. Participants could answer one or both questions and were limited to 100 words total (not 100 per question). Below are their emailed responses, which have been edited for brevity and clarity.
To follow the conversation on Twitter, use the hashtag #SBC2018.
Predictions: Esports are a major part of millennials’ (and soon to be brands’) everyday life. In 2017, the word was “franchising.” In 2018, it’s going to be “monetizing.” Ticketing, merchandise and loyalty/fan clubs will be the first areas for expanded monetization as leagues, teams and events cannot solely rely on media rights and sponsorship anymore to keep up with growth. As an extension of this, my bold prediction for 2018 is that by the end of the year, an individual player will retain their own likeness rights in their playing contract to allow self-monetization outside of team deals, just like they do in other professional sports.
Trends/topics: Franchising within esports has to be one of the biggest topics to watch for 2018. Looking at all the various leagues (LCS, OWL, 2k, H1Z1, etc.) to see how established sports teams activate their organizations around these new teams will lead to what I think is truly a new age of esports.
Prediction: I believe the big macro questions will be around whether or not the North America League of Legends and Overwatch League will show positive momentum towards their return on investment. I believe the answer is YES.
Trends/topics: The biggest hot topic for esports heading into 2018 is the advent of franchised leagues. With the launch of the Overwatch League and the newly franchised North American League of Legends Championship Series occurring at the beginning of the year, esports are finalizing a transition from being viewed as a marketing engine for games into independently monetized spectator sports. It will be interesting to watch how various stakeholders embrace this transition and how these two high profile leagues will fair in their inaugural seasons.
Predictions: Esports will continue to see a tsunami of investor capital pour into the space as many sports organizations and investment groups play catch up. However, the shortage of experienced operators will leave many of them placing those dollars in shaky hands. We’ll see currently franchised games like LoL and Overwatch spending millions on marketing to ensure their new investor/owners see a solid launch to the revamped leagues. We’ll also see the top global teams positioning themselves to better solidify and cement their position and leverage in the overall ecosystem. Nothing is stopping the momentum of the esports train in 2018.
Predictions: Over the next year, we’re going to see significant corporate investment in esports from blue chip companies as they see the ROI potential for their businesses. Bigger, non-endemic sponsors and exclusive broadcast partners will invest in the space as more people watch and play esports around the world, locking in esports as a significant piece of global corporate investment in sports.
Trends/topics: I’ll be following the significant investments being made in esports outside of team purchases, such as individuals and brands investing in everything from building venues to creating accessories to developing new games and beyond. Prediction: My prediction is that the influx of leagues and structure in esports will provide a level of comfort that will draw significant new dollars from non-endemic sponsors and media rights partners.
— Brendan Donohue, Managing Director, NBA 2K League
Predictions: I expect 2018 to be the year of reckoning for esports. Now that we’re on the other side of the initial hype and big advertisers have taken a serious interest it will be up to the different leagues, teams and publishers to deliver. From our seat at the table, we’re seeing a growing demand for accurate measurement and ROI calculation in order for sponsors to unlock the bigger budgets.
— Joost van Dreunen, Co-Founder/Chief Executive Officer, SuperData Research
Trends/topics/predictions: 2017 was another record-breaking year for esports. The top competitions became broadcast television fixtures and prize pools hit all-time highs. For 2018, be on the lookout for brand sponsorship dollars to eclipse industry projections and top $1 billion. Additionally, while the top esports by popularity and prize money have been static for the last couple of years, watch for one or more newcomers to crack the top five in 2018. Among the contenders: the NBA is launching its 2K league, Activision is kicking off its inaugural Overwatch season and several high-profile mobile developers are launching new esports titles.
Trends/topics: There are two major trends currently. The first is the franchising of leagues in some of the biggest esports titles, including NA and EU LCS and Overwatch League. Due to this, the second trend has emerged: acquisition of esports organizations by traditional sports teams and investors, such as the Houston Rockets, NY Mets, and Golden State Warriors. Prediction: These traditional sports investments will continue and become more prominent in sports that haven’t invested heavily already (pretty much just NBA, some MLB, NFL and NHL). This should also be true of international sporting teams, with European clubs picking up more than just FIFA players.
Trends/topics/predictions: Esports is gaining a ton of momentum and presence in colleges and universities around the world. The number of scholarship programs is skyrocketing, and 2018 will see collegiate esports become more and more institutionalized and mainstream. Broadcast rights: More big players are looking to get a piece of the esports broadcasting pie. Twitch has dominated the space but YouTube, Facebook and others are ramping up. Broadcast may be the biggest battleground for esports monetization, and broadcasters and platforms are fighting for competitive advantages.
Predictions: Think 2018 is going to start the consolidation for esports. The top teams will start dominating more and more esports titles, bringing stability and predictability to new titles. Top CS:GO teams will start cutting down on tournament attendance, helping to create clearer storylines throughout the competitive year.