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The New Trend: Co-Hosting eSports and Traditional Competitions

23 Jan, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Well, if Andy Murray doesn’t want to get out from Down Under right away, he can always stick around and watch another playing field entirely.

The Australian Open finishes up this weekend, but it’s not the only game in Melbourne right now. Epic Games has announced it will host a Fortnite tournament at the Open on Jan. 26 and 27. The Fortnite Summer Smash is offering a cash prize ($360,000 in U.S. currency) prize pool. (Click here to see the promo). The event, limited to 500 contestants, sold out immediately.

The juxtaposition of eSports with big-name sports events is a growing trend. The MLBPA Challenge offered baseball players not involved in postseason play to show off their own Fortnite skills. It kicked off on October 1 (right after the end of regular season baseball) and ran into December when the Live Championship Finals were held in Las Vegas.

An article in SportTechie noted the synergy between traditional pro sports and eSports.

“Fortnite is a global phenomenon, and we’re excited to host the Grand Slam of competitive gaming events at the Australian Open in January,” said Craig Tiley, Australian Open Tournament Director, in a press release. “The Fortnite Summer Smash at the Australian Open will see some of the best gamers from around the country do battle just hours before the world’s best male tennis players compete for the AO title.”

There will also be a duos pro-am event featuring Australian gaming and entertainment celebrities following the Fortnite singles finals. Prominent Fortnite streamers confirmed to be competing in that event include Kathleen “Loserfruit” Belsten, Lannan “LazarBeam” Eacott, Elliott “Muselk” Watkins, and Harley “MrFreshAsian” Campbell. A total of $72,000 in charity donations will be rewarded during the pro-am.

The rise of co-locating eSports with other sports is advantageous to destinations for obvious reasons: it brings in players and spectators – generally in a young demographic – and increases economic impact. It also increases media exposure exponentially. In 2016, the tournament Halo 5: Guardians, made its debut at X Games Aspen. Eight of the top eSports team competed on Xbox One in the inaugural Halo World Championship Tour: X Games Aspen Invitational 2016 teams, including Evil Geniuses, Team Liquid, and Dream Team. The three-day competition took place in the Microsoft-sponsored Gaming Shack located in the festival villages. And for the first time, segments and highlights of the eSports competition were integrated into the X Games Aspen telecasts on ESPN. The event was also livestreamed across platforms including WatchESPNTwitch.tv/Halo and mlg.tv/halo.

It’s not just a male audience, either. The Paul Mitchell Neon Supergirl Surfpro competition, held in July of each year in Oceanside, California, included tournaments in Fortnite, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Smash4 and others.

And other championships and high-profile events have also seen eSports events held nearby (and in some cases, even during) their events. Some were planned. World Sailing, for example, launched the inaugural eSailing World Championship in May of 2018. Intel hosted an eSports tournament, the Intel Extreme Masters, in PyeongChang just prior to the Winter Olympics. Games presented included Blizzard Entertainment's popular StarCraft II. (A separate exhibition, featuring Ubisoft's action-sports title “Steep Road to the Olympics,” the official licensed game of PyeongChang 2018, also took place.)

So what does it take for sports event owners to host an eSports event? Plenty of advance preparation. Like other sports events, it takes planning, the right venue, the correct infrastructure – and lots of publicity. Bloomington-Normal Sports Commission put on its inaugural Sixty Six Games two weeks ago. Sports Director Matt Hawkins shared his experiences in planning the event in this article, published in the most recent issue of Sports Destination Management.

In some cases, the integration of eSports and traditional sports has not included co-locating competitions but has still broadened the appeal of a sport. In December, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, the most popular gamer on live-streaming service Twitch, provided his first play-by-play commentary in a co-stream of the Thursday Night Football. This was a big deal since the NFL’s fan base is aging out. (The average age of an NFL viewer rose by 4 years to 50 from 2006 to 2016, according to data from Magna Global cited by Sports Business Daily.) And Ninja, who has 12 million followers on Twitch, is in his twenties.

Other ways eSports intersected with traditional sports: Last November, the NFL signed a licensing deal with Epic Games that would allow player’s avatars to suit up in official NFL gear. And according to the Orlando Business Journal, in the summer of 2018, the NBA hosted a draft day for eSports professionals to make up 17 five-player teams that will represent actual teams for the NBA. The teams, under the organization called NBA 2K League, will face each other in the video game NBA 2K. Players for the eSports league are hired and paid, just like the athletes for the NBA. Orlando Magic is one of the 17 teams that created an eSports roster, calling its team Orlando Magic Gaming.

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