Bernie Marolia, Sector Director for Enterprise at SSE Enterprise Telecoms talks about the emergence of Esports and how the telecoms sector is critical for sustaining the now mainstream gaming industry.
Video games are big business. With a predicted industry value of approximately £241bn by 2025, it’s a lucrative market – and an unsurprisingly competitive one too. With Esports alone set to be worth £1.4bn within just three years, it’s no wonder that some of the biggest companies in the world are sponsoring virtual players and events. From Nike to PepsiCo, business giants want to be involved in the future of Esports.
This once niche industry is now firmly mainstream. And the COVID-19 lockdown has only emphasised that, creating a boom in competitive gaming, viewing and participation, including high profile instances of traditional sports giving way to their virtual equivalents to keep fans sated while cars were off the tracks and players away from the field.
The question is, what’s next for Esports and what does the telecoms industry need to do to support its growth?
Player one: ready?
From Formula One to the NBA and FIFA’s Stay and Play Cup, professional sportspeople are using Esports to engage with fans after ‘real’ matches grounded to a halt. Meanwhile, viewership on popular game streaming website Twitch rose by 23 percent in March alone – with 1.2 billion hours of gameplay watched on the platform over the month.
But all this high bandwidth activity puts a major strain on the networks that support it, making it difficult for the media and digital entertainment industries to run Esporting events smoothly when on such a large scale. Leveraging existing infrastructure capabilities can only take businesses so far. As capacity pressures soar, something as conceptually simple as live gaming can become challenging to manage, or prohibitively expensive.
It undeniably takes a lot to make Esports happen – and it’s likely to become even trickier as its popularity continues to soar.
The need for speed
More than any other form of entertainment before it, the growing Esports empire is reliant on superior connectivity and ultra-low latency. Just one minor delay could hinder an Esports players’ performance or cause disruptions to the game. Inadequate connectivity puts hundreds of millions of pounds of prize money and sponsorship deals at risk, so a few second’s lag is no longer merely a mild vexation.
With this in mind, it’s down to media organisations and retailers to power their virtual Esports events and venues with the right connectivity technology. In practice, this means having an appropriate level of network capacity necessary to support Esports and ensuring they can scale to meet demand.
This isn’t always easy. Many network providers still aren’t used to the requirements of Esports compared to traditional events like concerts. So dedicated venues and hosts may need to go as far as installing their own networks to develop a dependable infrastructure to meet the needs of the event.
As you can imagine, being an Esports host requires upfront investment that some businesses may be hesitant about – particularly if they hadn’t planned to dedicate much budget to it. There’s also software and IT support to consider, as well as security measures that will ensure that hackers can be prevented from interfering with the event. But with Esports clearly in the ascendency, this should be seen as more than just cost. Investing now means benefits in the future as Esports grows, as well as being one of the first businesses to move, rather than playing catch up in five years’ time.
From Overwatch League to Play! Pokemon, Esporting events that fans in their thousands would have attended venues to watch have moved online in the wake of COVID-19, inadvertently helping to accelerate adoption of mobile and cloud-based gaming platforms. These platforms, while perfectly useable now, have a lot of exciting improvements to look forward to in the 5G and edge computing powered future ahead. These next generation alternatives will offer lower latency and speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G networks, minimising lag while providing viewers and players with a better-quality experience than ever before.
The new developments don’t end there. With new capacity comes new capabilities, with 5G adoption expected to boost the use of innovative virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology in Esporting events. In the future, these will be deployed to enhance the viewing experience, from giving fans an immersive virtual ‘front-row seat’ at matches to putting them in the centre of the action for a first-person look at gameplay. Live commentary, streaming multiple feeds, on-demand statistics and AR content for visitors could also become a possibility, making tuning in even more exhilarating than playing the game yourself.
While it could be tempting to jump on the bandwagon, businesses contemplating capitalising on the rise of Esports need to consider the high capacities required to successfully deliver this service.
Despite the challenges, the future is undoubtedly bright for this burgeoning industry. And with 5G set to become ubiquitous, we could see in-depth Esporting events and exciting new mobile gaming platforms following suit.