When I talk to CMOs and Marketing Directors about investing into the gaming space, I often get the same response:
“I know gaming is huge, I've read the numbers, I know it's bigger than the music and movie industries combined, but where do I begin?”
It's an interesting time. We're seeing the embryo of this ecosystem starting to build notions of competitive gaming but there's still lots of things that need to be done. There’s a lot of humanisation that needs to happen.
This week on Game Changers, I chat with Maurizio Barbieri, Head of Sports and Gaming Partnerships at Twitter, whose expertise intersects sports, gaming, tech and media.
I always like to kick off these interviews with this question: “Are you a gamer? If so, what are your favourite video games?”
Yes I am! I'm so old I can remember the first video games ever made. I actually played those games, but let's not dwell too much on that. What I'm playing most these days are sports games - baseball, basketball and racing. The one that I like the most is probably Real Racing 3. I spend too much time on it!
Let’s talk about sports gaming, how would you say it has evolved in recent months and years?
The evolution of sports gaming was driven by technology. We used to go to the stadiums to watch a game, listen to matches on the radio, watch one game per week on free-to-air. But when paid TV grew, sports, globally, completely changed and became more accessible. There were more games and the quality of telecasts were much higher.
Now, there’s so much value in sports. We can target a certain country, using a certain language, through a certain platform, at a certain time of the day. There's more money in it, and it can be shared on a wider scale to create better competitions. We also now have the option to say, “Why should I go out in the rain, in the cold and in the hot sun to watch a match when I can stay home with friends on the couch?”
Everybody was a gamer but the real switch to competitive esports happened when we had the technology to broaden the reach of gamers. Gaming used to be about becoming the best at a certain game. Now, not only can we find the person who’s best at a certain game, but also have competitions around those games. We can create esports leagues - athletes in their own fights, with their own merits.
Given what's going on around the world, most sports had been paused. We’ve seen traditional sports evolve and pivot pretty quickly to build new complementary offerings. Will this moment in time accelerate traditional sports’ move into esports?
Regular sports organisations are not going to transition to gaming-only or esports-only models. Sports-based games exist only because there's a real sport that can be consumed and watched.
“If we don’t have someone to emulate, what’s the point of playing that game?”
The idea here is having the opportunity to emulate something that might have happened on a real pitch. Better yet, giving players the option to do this at home, with somebody sitting next to them, or with somebody that is 10,000 miles away.
Whether or not competitive sports-based games are going to be as popular as non-sports based games, that's another story. Personally, I think they will not be as popular. I don't think that people would be interested in seeing me play as well as Messi, because I'm not Messi. I might be Messi on FIFA, but what I really want to watch is real football, and I'm going to watch it on TV when it comes on.
There's a lot of noise and hype around esports but it still is very nascent in the grand scheme of things. Do you ever see the value of gaming rights reaching comparable levels to traditional sports?
If it happens, it's not going to happen anytime soon. The financials are simply not there. Between gaming and esports, the value of gaming can definitely grow much faster than the value of esports because media rights are not associated with the value of the gaming industry. It's only about the competitive aspect of these select groups of athletes who are good at what they do.
The problem here is getting enough audiences to grow viewership to a certain level.
“Right now, we don't have the amount of content needed to drive media rights up."
We’ve got 380 games for English Premier League, 2340 games for Major League Baseball but only one gaming awards show, and one massive event for touch mobile. We’re not educating audiences, asking them to consume more. I can’t say prospects aren’t great, but before it happens, many things need to line up perfectly.
How can gaming better monetise and show its value to brands?
“You need to be able to find commonality that can bring together different interests."
If you find this common denominator, you need to be able to create a narrative and justify the investment. You need to make sure brands are willing to be associated with that narrative, and that people are willing to watch and generate enough return so that sponsors will be willing to pay. When we’re able to create engaging content, brands will then ask what return this will bring. It's not just about how we can drive sales, it’s about how we can drive loyalty and engagement.
Of all the conversations you're having with clients today, what would you say is the single one point that, if it's resolved, will lead more and more brands into the space?
It's a combination of things, but our ability to explain that what we have is compelling is one of them. Because what’s compelling for us might not be compelling for a brand that is outside of the gaming bubble. Even the best esports organisations have to find ways to overcome this lack of knowledge. We need to convince brands that this is valuable, that it’s worth it and that it’s something that they should be doing.
What are you most excited about when it comes to how gaming and esports will look like in the next, 6, 12, and 24 months?
Right now, the 1 billion dollar question is, “How do we make this a viable business? How do we make sure that esports becomes a thing?” Personally, I'm excited because I think we can help shape some of the conversations, and how certain things can be done. If we were able to engage certain partners and make sure we’re consistent, we know that we’ll be part of this change.