The esports phenomenon has risen significantly over the last few years. Search interest has exploded since around 2012 and major broadcasters like the BBC and BT Sport are now taking notice. We’ve written previously on where the industry may go in the future and whether it needs to ‘go mainstream’ to maintain its current pace. In this piece though, we’re going to look into a subject that is likely to be the biggest deciding factor in the future of esports: infrastructure. What is it? How important is it? And how can esports develop it?
What is esports infrastructure?
Infrastructure can mean a number of different things. At its core, infrastructure is anything absolutely necessary to the operation of a system. In the case of esports, that could mean the processes and policies necessary to run an esports team or tournament; in other words, things like contracts and agreements. This is something that was covered at the Future of eSports symposium we attended in August and is undoubtedly something the industry needs to pay close attention to. Without such checks and balances, the sport simply won’t thrive and fulfil the tremendous potential it has.
For this post, however, we want to focus more on the nuts and bolts meaning of infrastructure – the actual physical infrastructures that need to exist to allow esports to develop. For example, stadiums, training grounds, merchandise and the structures needed to sell it, ticketing and even the kind of transportation needed to get players to the places where they’re playing the games. These things are hardly as exciting as taking that Rocket League match down to the wire, but they’re absolutely integral to esports’ future, and gladly some major players in the industry are already ahead of the curve.
Look, for example, at our client Gfinity, which has the Gfinity Esports Arena in London at the heart of its operations. This gives the company a home and a central point of focus for its major offering, the Gfinity Elite Series. Fnatic also have a core space, the Fnatic Bunkr, which is a “concept store” where fans can buy merchandise, engage with the esports community and watch tournament streams and events. It’s a literal one-stop shop for Fnatic fanatics
How important is infrastructure to esports?
It all depends on where you want esports to go in the future. The sport is currently enjoying a golden age of growth, but there’s still a long way to go. As we discussed in our free ebook Field of View: Understanding your Esports Audience, the 385 million people who follow esports is pale in comparison to the 1.1 billion people engaged with football’s English Premier League. If esports wants to grow to that level (and it certainly has the potential to), it needs the kind of infrastructure the Premier League has had since its inception in 1992.
Providing that kind of infrastructure was one of the driving factors behind Fnatic’s Bunkr. “The idea comes from our founder Sam Matthews," Head of Events and Influencers Erik Londré told GamesIndustry.biz. "It's a bit of a pet project for him - if only to show that it's possible. It's not like we were 100% sure it would be a massive success, but we needed to try it. And we thought it would be fun. We take inspiration from Manchester United, but we also take inspiration from Vans and the things they've done with their skateboard stuff and footwear. Everybody is trying out things."
The bunkr has succeeded in its aim of showing that this kind of infrastructure is possible, but esports shouldn’t stop there; it should keep evolving and pushing the boundaries. As this video from Mashable underlines, esports events are now selling out major stadiums, such as the Barclays Center in New York. Most astoundingly, the Spodek Arena in Poland, which plays host to the Intel Extreme Masters, welcomed 173,000 spectators over two weekends of esports action in 2017. And these fans are doing more than simply watching the action – they’re engaging in the kind of community the infrastructure has built.
“Next to enjoying this energetic atmosphere, the fans want to see their players get signing sessions, they want to do additional stuff,” ESL’s Brian Kraemer says of the event in New York. “It sort of is similar to traditional sports, but it has more layers to it than just a normal sporting competition.” This kind of experience can’t be delivered purely online. It’s about getting people into arenas, stadiums or even shopping spaces like the Fnatic Bunkr and helping esports grow beyond the digital arena.
This will have a huge impact beyond the events themselves. By creating stadiums, teams and tournaments, creators gain a bit more control. Ticket sales from events becomes a reliable and significant stream of revenue and that money can be used in a number of different ways: expansion, creation of merchandise and even expanding the stadium further and therefore maximising that revenue stream. The money made from infrastructure such as this is absolutely critical to helping esports grow and become even stronger than it already is.
How can esports develop an infrastructure?
Growth is the watchword here. Creating infrastructure is never as easy as it seems – it’s never a simple case of just building a stadium or setting up a shop. It’s a slow process of due diligence, making the money and ensuring that whatever infrastructure is put in place will help grow the sport as a whole. In other words, it’s about careful and precise planning and those things take time and patience. Infrastructure simply will not spring up overnight.
So, anyone involved in esports needs to map out a clear plan for growth through infrastructure. What kind of infrastructure is important? How much will it cost? What are the aims of that infrastructure? If, for example, it’s a shop like the Fnatic Bunkr, is the aim of that shop solely to sell goods? Is it a statement? How much money would it take to set that shop up? And where is it aiming to take you in the long-term?
Ultimately, the path to a solid esports infrastructure will be long and complicated, but the rewards will be plentiful. Esports has succeeded so far by going rogue and defying expectations. But perhaps the biggest shock it can pull now – and certainly the most important – is to play by the rules and set up the infrastructure.
What do you think of infrastructure in esports? Is it important and what can be done to set it up? Let us know @FastWebMedia