Broadcast, Global

At the DBL: Minute Media’s new esports platform

As leading sports media and technology company Minute Media turns its attention to esports with its DBLTAP app, Duncan McMonagle, its senior vice president of strategy and partnerships, shares its strategy for the future and his wider opinions on the state of the esports industry.

by George Dudley
At the DBL: Minute Media’s new esports platform

Having started in Tel Aviv, Israel as a small sports media and tech company, Minute Media is taking a lead in the discussion around modern sport; in particular, the much-coveted millennial demographic. Powered by authentic and socially driven content, it puts the fans first and creates conversations behind the events.

Minute Media now boasts a commercial hub in London, a content and commercial office in New York, an office in Manila which provides multi-language content across Asia, and various commercial offices in Singapore, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Tokyo. 

Starting out with global soccer brand 90mins, Minute Media did three things: it gave fans a voice by creating an accessible content management  system (CMS) that the average subscriber could easily use; focused on mobile experience and social distribution, which at the time was a new thought process; and distributed content created by fans, for fans. 

Minute Media realised early on that people were not necessarily going to websites for news when watching sport but using apps, especially as a second screen. Furthermore, Minute Media harnessed the power of social media – and sharing of free content – by understanding that a supporter’s opinion garnered just as much interest as that of a so-called ‘expert’. 

It repeated the trick with a US sports-centric app called 12up and has now set up a third app called DBLTAP, which is designed specifically for fans of esports. Duncan McMonagle, senior vice president of strategy and partnerships at Minute Media, explains the genesis of the company and where the future of esports lies.  

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You have achieved great international success with your apps, 90mins and 12up, which focus on traditional sports. Why did you feel it was necessary to move into esports? How did the idea for DBLTAP come about?

DBLTAP actually came out of a conversation that we were having with Nike last summer around the time of the Euros. We were trying to work out what the football-obsessed teens did when they weren’t playing or watching football. 

What we discovered is that around 85 per cent of them – so the vast majority – were avid gamers. They are spending over nine hours per week online with friends. It wasn’t just [soccer games] Fifa or Pro Evolution that they were using, but it was actually games, which have now come to be known as esports, such as Call of Duty.

This piqued our interest. When we looked at esports as a whole we had a very close match in terms of our existing audience with Minute Media, where we have nearly 80 million monthly unique users all over the world using our global football brand app 90mins and 12up, which is our US sports brand. 

We realised that these [people that use the app] are millennials. 18-34-year-olds is the sweet spot but the majority is actually 18-24. Furthermore, there are less teenagers and young men going to live football matches because they have been priced out, or they can’t go with dad anymore! Add to that the fact that football coverage is readily available through your phone. 

We have worked out where this demographic has moved to: it is from traditional sports and into playing computer games. That was the first thing that we realised. We had an audience match as well as a platform match, because we effectively enable football fans, sports fans and now gamers to have a voice. 

For us it is very clear: esport puts on amazing events in amazing venues. It is a captive audience of people that are hard-core gamers, and we manage to create authentic content for these guys. We do interviews and can offer back-stage access through our partnerships with DreamHack, ESL, eLeague and some teams through Fnatic.   

Our on-the-ground content is designed to provide the user with the next best experience to being there in the flesh.

Which esports will you directly cover? Will it be the whole esports sphere or, given you success with 90mins, focus more on the soccer games? 

Ironically we will not be focusing on football ones to start off with. This is because I would not actually consider them to be esports titles. There are a number of reasons for this. Mainly because I think that the publishers, the actual game developers, haven’t really focused on it themselves. There aren’t a vast amount of tournaments around them yet.  

There is a huge interest in them because of the huge need to crossover to this younger demographic that football as a whole is losing and bring them back through gaming. If you look at the world of esports the main titles are League of Legends, Call of Duty and Hearthstone. They are all very specific gaming titles, which is where we want to focus on initially.      

 
      
Are your attentions solely concentrated on the millennials or are you looking to widen the market of esports to attract the older generations too? 

Yes definitely. If we look at the demographics of the audience that we are already generating it is interesting to see that there is definitely a hard-core around 24 and under. We also learned that esports is hard to pin down – a little bit like the Olympics – so your average World of Tanks gamer, a 35-year old in Moscow, is obviously a very different audience to your average 17 or 18-year-old kid in North America playing Counter-Strike, for example.

The games are all very different and quite often have very little in common in terms of the people that play them and the nature of the games, as well as the content that we create around them.  We tailor our content to each game to extremely differentiated audiences.

If we look at our numbers by looking at something like Counter-Strike or Street Fighter 5 we find that we have a much younger demographic. Whereas when we look at some of the other titles, we are attracting a much older generation. We don’t dictate – or try to target – we just try to cover the games in the most authentic way that we can. Whoever is attracted to the content then becomes our target market. 

Do you consider esports to be a genuine sport? Where does it sit in today’s global sporting pantheon?

In my opinion that question has long been answered. It absolutely is a professional sport. If you look at the tournaments that are being provided, the prize money on offer, the global nature of the sport as a whole, the athletes – these guys are athletes, they travel on an athlete’s visa – and the teams are extremely professional.

Whether people like to admit it or not it is absolutely a professional sport. It will potentially be included as part of the Olympics in many years to come. We firmly believe in the potential for it to keep on growing.

Esports has achieved such rapid growth in the past decade, despite such reticence from the traditional sporting markets. Do you see it continuing to develop in the next decade? What does the extrapolation of the market look like to you?

I think that there are certainly some challenges in esports right now but I see it maturing significantly. If you look at any tournament schedule that includes any of the top teams, it is still a little bit scatter gun. So I see some consolidation going on in terms of the major tournaments that actually put on the biggest events – I see it ending up with a Champions League for the best of Europe, a Premier League in the UK or a La Liga equivalent, to use the football parlance.      

I also see a reticence from brands to get involved because they don’t really understand the space like they do in traditional sports. Esports as a whole will continue to gain more coverage on linear television and more traditional broadcast formats. It will still continue to grow digitally through streaming, of course.

I think that a little bit of structure around the overall management of the sport is needed. There is no current Fifa equivalent. There is the World eSports Association (WESA), which has been set up by a number of parties interested in growing the sport as a whole but that is still in its infancy in terms of professionalising the sport overall. 

I see an opportunity for brands to connect in a more engaging way with a younger demographic, which a lot of them admit to struggling with right now.  I also hope that DBLTAP will play a big part in that. We already create content that caters that a younger demographic and we understand how to process it for them by telling a stories from a tournament that are not just in the streams. 

As part of this maturation process I think that esports and the games that fit inside the remit of esports need more heroes. At the moment the focus is on the teams but I think that the individuals need to come to the fore because they are the guys that will inspire the next generation.   

You mentioned that Nike was part of the genesis of DBLTAP. What other partners or sponsors have you attracted to the app? 

Minute media as a whole has a multitude of global brands – we do work with the likes of Nike, major movie studios and big brands. Despite being a new brand DBLTAP has worked with Warner Brothers helping with the launch of [Guy Ritchie-directed movie] King Arthur, as well as PepsiCo with Mountain Dew. 

The deal with Mountain Dew is very simple: they want to do exactly what we want to do, which is to provide storytelling outside of the live streaming. We have a monthly format called ‘Dewing it My Way’ – please pardon the pun!

There are stories that need to be told of how these kids have made it despite the adversity they faced. 

The famous one is, of course, Sumail ‘SumaiL’ Hassan from Pakistan, who literally sold his bike so that he could afford internet cafes to play Dota online. He moved to America, bringing his whole family with him, and got picked up by the Evil Geniuses team. At the International 2015, Evil Geniuses took home roughly US$6.6 million, with SumaiL's share a little over US$1.3 million. At 16 years old, he became the youngest professional gamer to win US$1 million.  

We want to tell these stories but they tend to be told sporadically or as one-offs. We want to be telling them continuously.

What in your opinion is unique about DBLTAP? 

The unique thing is clear for us: we provide the next best experience to being at an event yourself. 

At a recent competition in Pardubicka there were 130,000 people in attendance on site, and 42 million watched online. However, 42 million people didn’t known what it was like to be there because there was no backstage or underground access. This is what DBLTAP is doing. We are not showing you what is going on stage but, instead, we are showing the viewer what it is like to be in the crowd and speaking to other fans.  

We think that seeing what the atmosphere and expos are like – even experiencing the Call of Duty guys turning up in all of their funky outfits – is the bit that is missing that will we will be fulfilling.