Over the last 18 months or so, we’ve seen Twitch really open up more to traditional sports content. More athletes are streaming on the platform than ever before, there’s a whole category dedicated to sports, and workout streams are becoming more and more common. Twitch even held its own powerlifting competition.
This embrace of traditional sports reached a new height last week when the platform landed a deal to have popular Brazilian streamer Gaules co-stream NBA matches for a Brazilian audience. Reporting on this news, Rod “Slasher” Breslau tweeted out the witty line “sports, the next esport.”
Indeed, many established sports are looking to esports to learn how they can engage with a younger audience increasingly disconnected from traditional media. While a clever meme, the line drives home the point that in order to stay relevant, sports leagues have to embrace the strategies that are driving esports growth.
However, there’s another angle by which I think Slasher may be more right than even he intended. Even 20 years from now, when Wild Rift has replaced football as the world’s leading sports competition, there will always be room and a demand for athletic competition. American football and baseball may be approaching the end of their time in the spotlight, but we’ll always enjoy watching athletes at the peak of physical conditioning doing things we could never do.
Some of the established sports have likely been too slow to adapt to survive the cultural shift accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but their decline won’t automatically lead to more League of Legends viewers. There’s still too much demand for athletic competition and too many barriers to instantly transferring fans to various esports. We’re entering a period that is ideal for new sports to rise up, embrace online culture and modern viewership trends, and grow in ways they never could have before. In this way, there are sports which could become “the next esport.”
A perfect example of this is World Chase Tag – a sport that combines parkour free running, Ninja Warrior-style obstacles, and the playground game of tag.
There might not be a more accessible sport on the planet. It’s literally just tag, but there’s some points and obstacles to run around on. Teams select a “chaser” or “evader” from among their roster, the chaser chases the evader, who either gets tagged, or evades for 20 seconds and scores a point. Most points after 16 rounds wins.
My wife and I discovered WCT a week ago and have since devoured the entire competition archive on the league’s YouTube channel. Throughout that binge-watch session, I was struck again and again at how many of the trends we see in esports today are already present in this emerging sport.
The recent Valorant Masters event drove home just how much better round-based competition is from a viewer perspective than any other format. In Valorant, there’s a very natural ebb and flow to the action. Round starts and tension builds, tension escalates to a frenzy as a team claims the round, and then there’s a natural reset as each team prepares for the next round. This same cycle is present in World Chase Tag, but condensed even further into rounds that last at most 20 seconds.
That short timespan is another way WCT mirrors esports. The push towards mobile gaming has led every esport to look for ways to shorten the length of a single match. Modern gamers aren’t looking for an hour-long Dota 2 match, they want to squeeze four Wild Rift matches into that same hour. Even a long video of a WCT match is about 11 minutes, making the viewer experience much more consumable and mobile-friendly.
Finally, World Chase Tag, just like modern esports, has grown up on YouTube. The founders have been posting tournament matches to their channel for years with noticeable evolutions in production quality and professionalism each time. Watching through the WCT archive reminds me of looking up old footage of early Super Smash Bros. tournaments after watching the high level production of a recent Evo or Genesis. Rather than ignore digital media and focus on trying to exist only on linear television, even matches that have been broadcast through traditional means eventually make their way to the YouTube channel, showing that WCT recognizes the value and discoverability of having a sport that lives on TV and YouTube.
Accessibility, mobile-friendly, digitally-native. Sounds familiar? The esports industry is growing fast, and established sports are trying whatever they can to find new relevance among a digitally-native younger generation. Now is the perfect time for new sports to learn from the successes of esports, the misses of old sports, and build the sport of the future that appeals to Gen Z and beyond.
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