While EA is taking a more traditional approach with Apex Legends esports (as detailed in part one of our interview, which you can read here), Electronic Arts SVP and General Manager of Competitive Gaming Todd Sitrin says that the company is very interested in bringing in new audiences for its competitions and has begun thinking outside the box.
One example he cited was last year’s The Sims Spark’d competition, which used a reality TV format to pit teams of The Sims players in a competition show, with one three-person team earning $100K USD.
“The Sims is actually the biggest it’s ever been, but it is a very different demographic in that the players are almost a 50-50 split between men and women. A lot of people in esports talk about gender diversity in competition. If you watch an episode you’ll see very quickly that competitors do not look like normal esports competitors. I think we had something like 80% females who were competing. We talked to TBS and Buzzfeed about viewership and they said that all their metrics were through the roof in terms of viewership for women. We should be trying to take these male-dominated games and try to expand them.
“I think The Sims Spark’d shows that you can take a game that already appeals to a broader demographic and get behind that. You just have to be a little bit more imaginative in seeing what competition can be with a game.”
Sitrin believes that esports can be taken to a mainstream, non-endemic audience, and its definition of mainstream is simply that you don’t have to be a player in order to be a fan. This includes building competitions around mainstream titles and enhancing competitions to bring in real-world sports fans.
“Right now, the esports industry is primarily made up of viewers who are players of those games themselves. What we are investing in is expanding that audience. I think when you look at our sports properties, FIFA and Madden, there’s an obvious opportunity because there is a real-world equivalency, there is a fandom, there are 4 billion people watching the sport of soccer around the world. And so tapping into that audience, in addition to the approximately hundred million people that play our FIFA video games, it’s a big, big opportunity. And so 2021 was a year for us to move more aggressively in that direction.”
Sitrin points out that EA put on one of its biggest events ever this year for FIFA, which did an AMA of 254K, on par with the type of viewership you might be associated with a major League of Legends level event.
“FIFA has shown the ability to have large audiences when we break that down by territory. The European region is the largest, but North America is not far behind and you may not know this, but the second largest for our HD game (a differentiation from the Eastern version of its free-to-play game, FIFA Online). The advantage of sports franchises is that there is a real-world equivalency.”
Partnering its sports game franchises like Madden and FIFA with soccer and football teams and leagues allows the company to tap into the passion that people have for those sports, Sitrin notes, but more importantly, he believes it may be the key bringing younger viewers who are not paying as much attention to these sports to the table, too.
“It’s well-documented that the sports consumption habits are rapidly changing for fans. We’re seeing a decline in traditional sports viewership. What is very interesting to the sports leagues and the teams and why they are partnering with us so closely is that we can help them meet that next generation of sports fans where they want to consume sports content.”
Finally, Sitrin says that there is a great big world out there with a diverse audience that can be tapped into if companies like EA are willing to think outside the box.
“There’s a big world out there besides those that play and watch League of Legends, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike. I can tell you that internally when we were talking about The Sims Spark’d, our company had a hard time getting its head around it at first. I explained it to them this way: I watch the Great British Bake Off, and I’ve never baked a thing in my life; I watch Project Runway, but I have no intention of ever making a dress; I watch Dancing with the Stars, but I’ll never be a professional ballroom dancer.
“If it’s a pop-cultural moment, it will draw a very large audience. And when you build it off with something like The Sims, you get a really great audience. “
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