The agreed-upon definition of esports is a form of competition using video games and in 2021 it’s almost unanimously adopted across the industry, but there may be something counter-productive with the premise of being an ‘esports fan.’
The early years of competitive video games saw plenty of tentative, widespread naming conventions for the industry that was being built from the ground-up. In the past five or so years, ‘esports’ became the de facto umbrella term for the dozens of games that are played competitively.
It’s handy to have a colloquial term for the industry for several obvious reasons, I’d not debate that. I do believe it doesn’t matter too much what the term we collectively agree upon is, as long as it’s not offensive or overly-complex, though.
What I believe may matter in the future is the use of ‘esports fans’ — effectively generalizing and collating a wide range of sub-communities. There are circumstances where this isn’t harmful at all but it’s not helpful when trying to understand the demographics that support those that comprise the industry.
Mischaracterization helps nobody
Esports is segmented by nature, much like the music industry or traditional sports. There are different genres that are unique in nature, thus appealing to people in different ways. There are strategic titles that fall under the banners of real-time strategy, shooters, fighting games, MOBAs, battle royale, and so on.
Each genre stands on its own for a reason; games under a particular banner all share characteristics. Let’s delve into a scenario. 22-year-old Tim is a fan of Call of Duty, he enjoys the shooter gameplay and simple objectives of the game modes within the franchise. He’s not been able to find any interest in strategy games and he thinks Dota 2 is impossible to understand.
He has more chance of understanding and enjoying a game like Halo which, while standing alone in its gameplay, shares characteristics with CoD. Considering his established interest in shooter titles, he may well find something of intrigue in Halo or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive but it’s almost-guaranteed that League of Legends won’t be something he’d enjoy — or perhaps even understand — when spectating.
It wouldn’t be a big stretch by any means to call him a fan of shooters but not a fan of MOBAs. Now, let’s say he’s just become interested in watching the world’s best players battle it out against each other in Call of Duty because he wants to improve. He’s now a fan of Call of Duty esports.
Companies of all nature should want to understand audiences. Knowing the interests, tendencies, characteristics, and demands of an audience allows a company to better serve them and subsequently, in theory, have a better chance of becoming successful. This is especially important for sponsors, who comprise a crucial percentage of the overall esports revenue.
Considering his preferences and competencies as a spectator, banding Tim together with 13-year-old MOBA fan Jenny as the same demographic would not be a good idea for many companies. There’s no overlap between Tim and Jenny besides their general interest in gaming — the chances of a company having a product that appeals to them both, even if it’s a new video game, is unlikely.
Segmentation helps everybody
We often generalize when we discuss esports, which is an industry that’s heavily-segmented by nature. If we want to better understand the numerous demographics we serve, we’re better off keeping them segmented. A generalization of all competitive League of Legends fans is more likely to be accurate than a generalization of those across several genres and the dozens of games under those departments.
This is true for regions, too. The living experience in the United Kingdom is vastly different in many ways than it is for somebody who’s based in China. There are cultural and societal differences that must be accounted for.
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Now, there are anomalies. There are certainly consumers who enjoy shooters, MOBAs, and battle royales, for example, but there’s an exception to the rule. It’s hard to identify these people without extensive surveying, though this is something I’d hope to see in the future for a couple of reasons.
I don’t believe there’s too much harm to be made on a general basis when discussing esports, but it’s within the business of the industry when this occurrence is stupid. Executives who think they can tap into the ‘esports audience’ don’t really understand the industry, because there is not an esports audience.
Hopefully, as esports continues to progress and develop over the coming months and years, we can further acknowledge the nature of the industry for what it is and then have more informed and precise discussions — whether that’s when making an important decision or simply trying to advance each other’s thinking when it comes to the industry.