Successful pop culture trends only flow one way: small to big. They start as a subculture until they grow enough to become mainstream. In the 1950s, a small group of bohemians gave rise to the beat generation and then the hippie culture, which led to the entire fashion of the 1970s. The 1980s phenomenon of break dancing was born from Bronx-based street parties where a DJ would use two records to extend a song’s musical interlude, which is also known as the break. The ‘90s saw grunge spring from a small group of Seattleites and their wet, mopey fans.
The latest subculture that appears to be ready to break into the mainstream is esports. A 2017 report from the Entertainment Software Association found that 65 percent of American households are home to someone who plays video games regularly. An earlier study from 2013 that looked at worldwide gaming habits, found that 1.2 billion people were now playing games worldwide, and 700 million of those people played online.
Video games are a part of the global culture. From consoles to mobile devices and serious to casual, most people – if they are not actually playing a video game – have the ability to play one. So, whether it’s Words with Friends or Counter Strike: Global Offensive, video gaming is now an accepted pastime. It’s something that parents do with their children and groups of friends gather so they can play together (even if they’re several states apart).
It is from this trend that esports was born. What was once groups of friends playing LAN games has become an industry that is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2022. This has not escaped the attention of national broadcasters, many of whom have taken efforts to make esports more broadly available.
- ESPN – ESPN counterprogramed the 2017 Super Bowl by airing the Paris regional final of the FIFA 17 Ultimate Team Championship Series. In 2015, ESPN The Magazinededicated an issue to esports. “The response was phenomenal,” said Editor-in-Chief Chad Millman. Based on the success of that issue, ESPN launched an online vertical dedicated to esports coverage.
- TBS – The cable station airs ELeague, whichis a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Matches are shown across TBS and Twitch. The network is also the home of ELeague’s first reality tv show centered around Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition.
- CW – The youth-oriented channel has an entire reality series centered on esports that airs on its streaming site, CW Seed. Mortal Kombat: Chasing the Cup follows competitive gamers as they compete to win the ESL Mortal Kombat XPro League Finals.
- BBC – The British Broadcasting Company aired the 2016 League of LegendsWorld Championships and BBC3 aired a block of live esports every weekend of summer 2017.
- NBC – This mainstream network launched a tournament in 2017 centered around “Rocket League.” The finals were televised live on NBCSN in the United States.
Yet, the biggest success for mass distribution of esports occurs online. Twitch is currently the most popular online service for watching and streaming digital video broadcasts. Market research firm Newzoo recently analyzed 10 months of Twitch service and found that over 100 million users had streamed 800 million hours of esports. However, the site is facing significant competition from both Facebook and YouTube, both of which are extremely focused on increasing their esports output.
However, most of these deliver content to siloed groups of esports fans, i.e., League of Legends fans watch League of Legends broadcasts, StarCraft II fans stream StarCraft II content, etc. No broadcaster has tried to bridge the gap between esports fans and appeal to the common elements that unite their fandom.
It is this notion of the communal aspect of gaming that was behind the creation of the WHAM Network. WHAM is a new over-the-top network (its content is delivered exclusively via the internet) that will cover all aspects of gaming. The goal is to provide content that will appeal to anybody regardless of the video gaming expertise.
Photo Credit: Tweak Town
The network was created by Gary Kleinman, the owner of an experiential marketing agency. The idea of exploring esports first came to Kleinman when he was reading an article that mentioned a sold-out League of Legends tournament at Madison Square Garden. Kleinman was shocked that over 10,000 people would show up to watch a tournament of people playing video games. His interest piqued, Kleinman delved deeper into the esports community.
“Gaming as a core concept is touching virtually everybody’s life, and you can extend that out to your GPS system. If you use Waze, it is really nothing more than a game for you to get to a destination faster than you would on your own,” Kleinman said in an interview posted on SportTechie.
“From my experiential background, what it meant to me was, that it’s not about the game. There’s an emotional connection, there’s a communal connection, there’s something going to spur that kind of engagement and involvement, so I endeavored to try and understand on a very specific basis what that was and where that connective tissue happened to be.”
Initially, Kleinman just hoped to add esports to his marketing services. However, the more he learned about the industry, the more intrigued he became. So, he created a 24/7 network that focused on esports’ industry news, the celebrity gaming scene, and in-depth coverage of live events while providing a gamer-focused original series. WHAM launched April 9 and is available on Twitch, online, and on mobile devices.
Some of the original programs currently available on WHAM include:
- Clip Blip:An America’s Funniest Home Videos-style clip show focused on gaming.
- Gamer IRL:Chronicles the day in the life of someone in the esports business.
- Page Up: Will take an in-depth examination of the thematic elements of games, both gaming and literature experts will compare how specific novels correspond to a game’s plot and the morality of the characters.
- Game Bytes:A city-by-city tour of arcades and diners where the host plays the game du jour of the area while enjoying the local cuisine.
- Retro Gaming from the Strong Museum:Will utilize the National Museum of Play’s video game collection and take a look at the current events occurring around the time of their release.
WHAM is partnering with Cinedigm to distribute the content, with Kleinman and Cinedigm jointly operating the channel.
“Gaming lifestyle and esports content will be a multi-billion dollar industry within the next few years,” said Erick Opeka, EVP of Cinedigm Networks. “We’re excited to tap into this flourishing market with the launch of WHAM Network.”
“Part of what our network is all about,” said Kleinman, “is to take the gamer and give them, essentially, credibility that what they’re doing is positive, what they’re doing is great and people in their world can now share what they’re doing without having to necessarily play the game. Our unofficial tagline for the network is, ‘Gaming is a force for good.’”
For more of our thoughts about how this new ability to reach an even greater video game loving audience can impact your business, give one of our esports experts a call at 972-323-6354.