Spotlight: Interview with Scott Debson. EVP of Strategy, Engine Shop

Spotlight: Interview with Scott Debson. EVP of Strategy, Engine Shop
In this Soccerex Spotlight, we talk with Scott Debson, Executive Vice President of Strategy at Engine Shop, addressing the rise in eSports revenue and audience, and how eSports may progress in the athletic world in the future.

Hi Scott, thank you for speaking with us today! To start off this interview, could you please explain what your role at Engine Shop involves?

 It’s my pleasure. I’m the EVP of Strategy at Engine Shop, and primarily focus on gaming/eSports and football (soccer). From a gaming perspective I work with leagues, teams and brands on how they should approach the gaming space, building strategies and executing that strategy with them.

On the football front we work with brands, teams and leagues on “translating football to soccer” in the North American market, primarily around content production, product collaborations and experiential.

 What are the main goals for Engine Shop, and how does the company work towards achieving these goals?

From an overarching Engine Shop perspective, our main goal is to help build our client’s brands and grow their businesses. When we do that well, everything else takes care of itself.  Be it leagues, beer, cars, insurance or watches, harnessing passion for gaming, sports, music or causes, we build and execute programs that help move our clients forward.

This is all accomplished by having a passionate team that provides fresh thinking, flawless execution and the ability to measure success for our clients. 

Before joining Engine Shop, you co-founded SA Studios Global -  an innovative marketing and branding company - for nearly 11 years. How has the experience you gained with SA Studios helped you in your role with Engine Shop?

I actually started my career in the mobile content business in the early 2000’s.  I was GM at Zingy, at the time was the largest mobile content company in the US. As the GM, I oversaw more than 400 licenses and launched a studio that created mobile only video content. What I learned from both Zingy and SAwas that it’s imperative to understand consumer passion points, the communities that exist around the passion in question and how consumers, consume their passion. We have access to so much data today, but without really understanding and experiencing your consumers passion points, you are going to miss the mark.

The World Economic Forum claims the global eSports audience will reach 380 million by the end of the year, with 165 million dedicated fans, and 215 million occasional viewers. Why do you believe the eSports industry is so popular in the current climate?

When we look at the “eSports audience” we have to remember that this,in large part, is the evolution of the gaming audience that has consistently been growing over the past 20+ years. When you look at the raw numbers, in 2017, in the US alone video game sales were close to $30BN (nearly three times that of Hollywood**), and 60% of Americans play video games daily!*

With that said, I think there are three huge drivers for eSports popularity that have created a perfect storm:

  1. Livestreaming platforms (Twitch, Twitter etc) have made it incredibly easy for gamers to share their experiences with the fellow gamers, whether by streaming their game play to fans, or watching other gamers play.
  2. Investments made by the publishers, IP holders and media organizations are providing greater structure, organization and accessibility around the professionalization of competitive gaming including prize pools, tent pole events and social experiences.
  3. Probably most important of all, eSports is an extremely popular passion point for males 18-24, a notoriously difficult audience to reach by brands. They have cut the cord and love to use ad blockers, spending most of their time playing games, streaming gameplay or watching other gamers play.

*http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/EF2018_FINAL.pdf

**https://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2017&p=.htm

 According to a report by Newzoo, total revenue generated by eSports jumped from $493 million in 2016 to $655 million in 2017, with the industry predicted to generate over $900 million by the end of 2018. In your opinion, what is it about the eSports industry that continues to attract rapidly growing revenue streams?

The revenue streams are very similar to those in traditional sports – media rights, sponsorship, advertising, ticket sales and merchandise. Sponsorship accounts for around 40% of the revenues and media rights around 20%. So, as we continue to see the publishers creating more events and legitimate league structures around new or existing titles (look at Overwatch and the expansion in to new markets) the sponsorship opportunities increase for brands, as do the number of broadcast hours available for broadcast. At its most basic level, the cost per impression / cost per engagement is comparatively cheap when compared to traditional approaches. As per my earlier point, eSports is the most effective way to reach the all important 18-24 year old demographic.

Engine Shop was the lead agency for last year’s eMLS Cup. With the ever-growing eSports industry, and the popularity growth of soccer and the MLS in the US, how do you see the eMLS Cup growing in popularity, and generating more revenue in the next year, and further in the future?

We are absolutely thrilled with the success of eMLS in its first year. Not just from the numbers perspective, but from the acceptance by both the global FIFA community, and the wider gaming audience. eMLS recently won an award for best new eSports stream, beating the likes of ELEAGUE and Ninja, for the All Star Challenge held at the MLS All Star Game.In its first year eMLS consisted of just one tentpole event, a four day competition held at PAX EAST, one of the largest gaming conventions in the world. The 2019 season will consist of a number of tent pole events, leading up to Cup, enabling us to reach a broader audience, both in person and on stream. The platform will continue to evolve in the future as the league continues to grow, which in turn will allow for growth at the club and local amateur community level. Finally, we are seeing incredible support from MLS’ partner brands that recognize the value, and realize this is a fantastic entry point for them into eSports. 

With a number of the world’s top football clubs dedicating time and funds towards eSports sections of their organisations, and following the creation and successes of the eMLS and e-Ligue 1, do you think we could eventually see a future where most, if not all, of the world’s top federations could have their own eSports leagues and could we ever see a multinational club competition similar to the Champions League of European soccer?  

Absolutely. This is already happening! Currently the competitive FIFA scene, which leads up to the eWorld Cup, is set up to find the best players in the world with various ways to qualify through major events. The leagues, including MLS, La Liga, Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Eridivisie, all have qualifier spots for the winners of the specific leagues. So, in essence the infrastructure that EA is building (along with a number of leagues), has all the elements of the Champions League!

To what extent do you believe live sports and eSports can work together in harmony to convert, for example, live MLS fans, into eMLS fans, or vice versa?

MLS works tirelessly on looking at this, and it was a huge impetus for the launch of eMLS. 65% of avid MLS fans said the number one driver for them becoming an MLS fan was FIFA! If we look at it the other way, I am confident that MLS fans will start, if they have not already, following the eMLS player that represents their club. All of the clubs have done a fantastic job at integrating the players into the ecosystem from appearances at matches and special events, through to content creation, offline tournaments and online streams.

Amongst rumours that eSports could be included in an upcoming Olympic games, with Paris 2024 being tipped, what impact do you think it could have on eSports as an industry, and its future growth?

I think it’s going to be very hard to have eSports in the traditional Olympics until there is greater regulation at the national and international level. There is also the challenge of working out the correct esport titles to fit within the Olympic spirt and set of values.

Equally important, you can’t have look at eSports the same way as traditional sports. Noone owns “basketball” for example, but the intellectual property of League of Legends is owned by the Publisher, Riot Games. There is a competitive global platform around it that is on a rolling yearly calendar. From an impact perspective, I think that aligning with the Olympics may give credibility within circles of people that don’t currently watch or consume gaming content. Conversely, I think that the Olympics would access an audience that may not currently be watching the Olympics, if they were to add eSports into the mix. It’s not about validation, and more about recognition.

eSports is a market that has grown immensely due to online streaming platforms. Recently, coverage of FIFA eSports has made its way onto Sky Sports, and there is potential for more mainstream media coverage should eSports be introduced into the Olympics. Conversely, traditional sport is increasingly moving towards online streaming, with digital giants like Facebook and Amazon buying rights to some of the world’s top leagues. How important do you think mainstream media coverage will be for eSports future growth and do you think this growth could be impacted by the increase online streaming of live sports?

I think that having eSports on traditional platforms adds legitimacy from an advertiser / brand perspective; however, the broadcast numbers have been dwarfed by streaming numbers for past events. To put it into context, the Overwatch Finals averaged more viewers per minute on Twitch (289,000) than total viewers on ESPN (275,000)* in the US.

I think that this is an issue facing the traditional broadcasters overall, not just for eSports. How do you create a compelling viewing experience for viewers who are multitasking while moving around and not “sitting in front of the box”? The chat is also a huge reason that viewers want to watch on Twitch. There is an active, passionate community who pride themselves on being able to be part of the conversation during the broadcast.

*https://kotaku.com/overwatch-leagues-tv-ratings-were-low-but-it-doesnt-ma-1827985425

*https://www.heroesneverdie.com/2018/8/8/17665076/overwatch-league-finals-10-8-million-viewers

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