Gaming Marketing and Strategy Leader and Former Head of Cross-Channel Strategy and Marketing Insights at Riot Games
How does fandom differ between traditional sports and the evolving world of esports? In this episode, Kayla Green, Gaming Marketing and Strategy Leader and Former Head of Cross-Channel Strategy and Marketing Insights at Riot Games, talks about the rise and emerging influence of esports fans. Green discusses how platforms, like Twitch and Reddit, build highly-engaged communities by creating conversation between fans and access to players.
Traditional sports franchises are looking to eports and wondering how the heck did they get so many fans, and how they do it so quickly. And, what are we missing? What are we not doing right? What can we learn from them?
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I'm Kayla Green and I head up global marketing insights and cross-channel strategy for Riot Games. I don't know if there's a difference between fandom from decades ago and being a fan today. I think it's being a passionate supporter in a belief or a story or a shared desire to want to advance something together. It's having that appreciation and then demonstrating it through your actions.
We have different spaces that we can occupy. We have different ambition; we have different fans. We have different mechanisms for that kind of engagement, that kind of connection or where fans can even watch. It's very different. And so, when I think about the differences between traditional sports and esports, I'd like to believe that esports is really about to push into their new space, the ambition and just what's ahead of us that is the unknown, that can deliver on fan excitement, fan ambition, [and] the desires of the fan to have proximity to the athletes and proximity to the excitement.
I think the biggest difference is that esports has this massive open road ahead of them in defining and shaping what it means to be a fan, what it means to be an athlete. And, I think, the rest of traditional sports are starting to pick up on that. You know, esports viewership, some of these world events have eclipsed that of the NBA playoffs in terms of viewership. And I think that the biggest difference is that we've created these spaces for the fans to be involved, to engage, to feel like they can pick up, you know, and, and get into a game directly with any of their favorite players. So, I think that there's a little bit in the proximity that esports gives between fans and athletes, that's probably a little bit different than traditional sports. But I definitely see esports looking at some of the greatest, you know, environments and what have we learned from those sports franchises that have preceded us. I'd like to believe we'd stand on the shoulders of those giants as we chart a path ahead of us.
Platforms like Twitch and YouTube, Reddit help to extend and create access to really build that community of fans. It creates direct connection. It creates spaces and environments outside of the game that allow people to connect with each other to learn about the game, to get better at playing the game. So, I think that they play an inherent role in, if you are a gamer, then you are likely on one of those platforms, either learning more about the latest patch release or connecting with friends that might play, you know, at the same time that you play or learning more about the main that you're playing right now or the latest champ release. And, so it pays off all of the functional, but also the emotional needs that players have as they get into the game.
Traditional sports franchises have heavily leaned on metrics like ratings as the metric of success, the metric of value. And I think that when you look at esports and fan engagement, it's more than just tune in, right? It's fans that have logged on to Twitch, they're maybe second screening, they're watching, you know, B roll, uh, or playbacks on YouTube. They're heavily engaged in content that is not just about the competition itself, but the artifacts and the pieces that make the competition so special, so unique, so exciting. I think that, you know, traditional sports franchises are looking at esports and saying, how do we create that kind of value for our own fans? And, how does that value start to trickle down into more equitable opportunities for athletes?
The opportunity space for modern day, you know, sports franchises to look at esports and say maybe the value of the fan is more than just the eyeball. Maybe it's something more engaging. Maybe it's something that's more community driven. Maybe those are the metrics that matter.
I definitely see that gaming and communities and gaming start to bring communities closer together and cultures closer together in real time. And so, that transfer of knowledge, that transfer of information, that sharing of ritual together happens in so much more of a tighter knit and trusted environment. And sometimes that's the beauty of playing a game, is that you are learning, you are connecting, you are having a community with people around the world that you probably will never meet in real life. And how powerful is that?
When we think about accessibility of the game in places that might today, you know, not be serviced by great coverage or…cell reception. I think what we're doing is we're watching where infrastructure is getting built up to enable us to move into spaces where there are servers, where we can put servers, where we can install technology to enable that accessibility. So, we're kind of following the path…where we are able to enable more connectivity, we are. We're just simply staying close to whatever that kind of cell or mobile technology is so that we can make sure that we're really paying off that demand as the technology unlocks itself.
The most exciting part for me today about Web 3, and specifically NFTs, is the ability for your everyday person to own something that maybe one day they couldn't. Ownership of teams has been largely reserved for those that have means. Digital tokens create opportunities for fans to have ownership where they might not usually have ownership. I get excited about when accessibility, you know, might not be as equitable. Where owning a sports club is usually reserved for folks that have money – to give fans the opportunity to have that ownership, to be as invested and not feel like they're limited because they don't have means and yet they're still a super fan. They're still as engaged. I think that's where the real potential of things like NFTs exist today. And I'm very excited about what that does to democratize things like ownership and fandom for the future.
You know, I'd like to hope that the future of gaming is equitable. I'd like to make sure that we learn from some of the possible missteps of traditional sports franchises and more traditional kind of fandoms. And we're not having a course correct down the road, but that we're creating and we're thinking about opportunities as equitable. I'd like to leave this world and know that I might have created more opportunity for my son and my daughter, and I think that gaming presents that opportunity.
Social media and streaming platforms help extend and create access to build a community of fans. It creates spaces and environments outside of the game that allow people to connect with each other. Kayla Green discusses that affect on our society.
Platforms like Twitch and YouTube, Reddit help to extend and create access to really build that community of fans. It creates direct connection. It creates spaces and environments outside of the game that allow people to connect with each other, to learn about the game, to get better at playing the game. So I think that they play an inherent role in, if you are a gamer, then you are likely on one of those platforms, either learning more about the latest patch release or connecting with friends that might play, you know, at a same time that you play or learning more about the main that you're playing right now or the latest champ release. And so it pays off all of the functional, but also the emotional needs that players have as they get into the game.
Twitch does attract a viewer, right? So, that viewer wants to watch and get excited about what they're seeing. I think that a lot of the athletes or the esports players tend to attract a ton of viewers because people are watching to actually learn how to play the game better, themselves. So, they're using it as a tool, not just around fandom, but as a way to get back into the game. One of the other things that we've learned recently is that many of the players who might not currently have enough time to play the game themselves, League [of Legends] takes a a bit of time to play, they might love the game, they might love the story, they might love the lore, and yet they might now have two small children. And their wives or their husbands don't let them play as much as they used to. So, esports allows them to have that proximity to the game without having to go 10 hours deep each night into the game. It allows them to still have that connectivity and be a part of the community that they know and they love.
Kayla Green discusses the similarities between Web 3 and video games and the value audiences place on connection and interaction.
I think Web 3 is really interesting, and if you maybe look at some of the core elements of what Web 3 is today, it's a lot like a video game. So, I'd like to say that we're excited about ways for people to find value, connection, and interaction, not just in real life, but I'd like to believe that our games have been doing that for a while.
How does gaming create accessibility in culture? Kayla Green talks about gaming and esports’ role in connecting cultures and people.
How does gaming create accessibility in culture? And I think because gaming is real time because you sit and you play with people from around the world, you're able to get information from those communities almost in like a first person than you are through like a more traditional news source. And, I don't think that gaming takes the place of news outlets or platforms where you're getting kind of a more trusted and authoritative voice on a certain topic. But I definitely see that gaming and communities and gaming start to bring communities closer together and culture is closer together in real time. And so, that transfer of knowledge, that transfer of information, that sharing of ritual together happens in so much more of a tighter knit and trusted environment. And, sometimes that's the beauty of playing a game is that you are learning, you are connecting, you are having a community with people around the world that you probably will never meet in real life. How powerful is that?
What does fandom mean and how does it differ between esports and traditional sports fans? Kayla Green describes the state of fandom.
Fandom is the active participation and the activities of fans. And fandom can be demonstrated as wearing your favorite team's t-shirt to singing their chant at a game to having a very heated discussion about who's the greatest player of all times and why they exist. Two, putting your money into things that demonstrate your fandom, like buying a jersey or wearing the team colors. So, it's the action of being a fan.
Gaming Marketing and Strategy Leader and Former Head of Cross-Channel Strategy and Marketing Insights at Riot Games
Traditional sports franchises have always leaned on ratings as the metric of value and success. But, with esports, fan engagement is more than just tuning in and watching. It’s about feeling connected to the players and each other.
Metrics for esports include viewers doing more than just watching live competitions. They log into Twitch to second screen content while playing; they watch highlight clips on YouTube and join in on Discord conversations. They engage in all content, not just sport–level tournaments.
Traditional sports franchises are looking at esports and wondering how to create that kind of value for their own fans. They are finally considering that the value of the fan might be more than just the eyeball; metrics that matter might be more about transfer of knowledge and bringing people together. Engagement is the metric at the center of esports.
NFTs may hold more weight in the future of sports than you realize.
Ownership of teams has traditionally been only available to those with financial means. But digital tokens, like NFTs, allow everyday people to purchase ownership of their favorite player or team. It allows fans to be just as invested as a traditional supporter without the high-dollar commitment.
Democratization of ownership and fandom through NFTs is the future of esports.
Platforms like Twitch, YouTube, Reddit and Discord help to extend and create access to build a larger community of fans. Social media helps fans connect with other players and learn how to play games with knowledge of the latest updates.
Through video streaming social media channels, gamers who might not have time to play the game anymore (such as parents) can still feel connected to the content. These audiences stream games, enjoy the lore and engage with the community without spending hours playing one particular game.
Fandom is the active participation and activities of fans, and encompasses traditional sports and esports.
From cheering and singing at your favorite team’s game to wearing their colors while watching the game at home, fandom comes in many different forms. In traditional sports and esports, fandom connects communities, breaks barriers and creates excitement for all involved.