The global audience for Esports is on track to rival the size of the American football audience by 2017. Dedicated American-style football fans number about 151 M, and the equally dedicated Esports audience is projected to reach 145 M by 2017. Though impressive on a global scale, to date North American audience size has lagged behind Asia’s Esports audience size at just under 15 M while Asian audiences have reached three times that size (49 M as of 2014)  .
2014 and 2015, however, saw major North American publishers and broadcasters make definitive moves to committing to the success of Esports. In December, Electronic Arts announced it was forming a Competitive Gaming Division and putting its longtime FIFA Interactive advocate, Peter Moore, in charge. Not only did it recommit to its current competitive leagues, but it promised to develop new events “as well as the infrastructure” in order to deliver a “best in class program”. With this announcement one of the largest, most profitable North American game publishers not only recognized the brand development potential of Esports, but moved to consolidate its franchise.
Not to be outdone, Activision announced early in 2016 that it had bought Major League Gaming (MLG), and that MLG’s senior leaders would come aboard with the acquisition. In doing so it acquired significant tournament production and promotion capabilities with strong North American market presence. The new venture is goaled on being the “ESPN” of Esports, meaning it will work with all games, not just Activision’s. In fact, Valve’s CounterStrike game has been steadily building Esports audiences, and in 2016 will be the centerpiece of a tournament produced in North America with MLG. The final will play to a live audience at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus OH. Earlier in 2015 Activision announced its Call of Duty World League - a self-contained competitive structure designed to take regular players all the way up to national competitions. With skilled production and promotion, this incredibly popular game could fuel a sizeable Esports audience.
Equally significant for 2016 is the new arrival of two broadcast networks to Esports. In the fall of 2015, Turner Broadcasting Studio announced it would broadcast 20 weeks of Esports competition in 2016, featuring above-named Valve CounterStrike competitions. While it’s not clear yet when during the summer TBS will broadcast, the timing may allow for it to overlap with major Esporting events going on Europe and North America.
And… just as 2015 came to a close, ESPN made its announcement it was setting up a separate vertical to handle Esports. Now the ESPN.com/Esports website features experienced industry writers who provide full coverage of Esports teams and industry developments all over the world. In a silent nod to the newness of Esports for American audiences, the site provides expert summaries of the of the leading games involved in Esports.
There are also indications that the business model will begin to evolve beyond free and public platforms like Twitch and Youtube. Ashttp://http//www.nytimes.com/2016/01/05/technology/activision-buys-major-league-gaming-to-broaden-role-in-e-sports.html?ref=technologyRobert Kotick, CEO of Activision commented about the purchase of MLG,
“We think user-generated-content networks are great and widely available,” he said. “This is really focused on premium content.”
Under a premium content model, the audience experience and viewer loyalty will take on greater importance. It’s clear that North America will be treated to a whole new wave of Esports and brand-building events that could greatly increase the Esports audience.