ESPN reporting can be something of a minefield when it comes to fact checking in smaller scenes, but it’s rare Jacob Wolf gets his numbers wrong. That’s why, when the young American writer published a report suggesting the new Call of Duty World League spots will be sold for a starting price of $25m each, ears pricked up and industry folk took notice, as they rightly should, about the forthcoming fleecing of VC types.
It’s hard to put in perspective the reality of how badly priced franchise spots have been in recent years. CoD and League of course have both sold their souls to the ‘buy a spot in the league’ devil, and the cost of an Overwatch team still looks ridiculous to this day when you consider that game had none of the proof of concept CoD or League have. It also shows how far esports has come, from the days when you could start a CoD or Halo clan with nothing more than an Xbox and a lift to the event from your dad…
Let’s look at the actual price, then, and see how it works out in comparison to other franchise leagues, and which of them offers the best value for money to the billionaire who heard about esports this orning and is about to get robbed by a young CEO, maybe one with red hair, that looks like an incidental character from a late-period episode of South Park.
Just to be fair, we’re going to use the World Championships in 2018, or the Grand Finals of the Overwatch League, and compare the figures from those first. All values are provided by the excellent ESC and, of course, any number should be treated with a degree of scepticism, as reporting of these figures is still complicated due to the issue of how they are recorded in China.
Cost per eyeball
First up, we have the Call of Duty Worlds, which were not great in 2018 due to issues with the game that was out at the time, and how a lot of the ‘big’ names in the scene were crap at it, but it was the highlight of the year. Shown on MLG and Twitch, the event had a peak figure of 200,000 viewers, according to Adam Apicella, who may have been embellishing a tiny bit, but is still below the confused number ESC offers, due to the MLG/Twitch crossover.
If you spend $25m on a spot, you’re paying $125 per viewer
This means that if you spend $25m on a spot, you’re paying $125 per viewer at the World Championship, provided you make the final, of course. In a game dominated by a smallish group of teams, that makes the investment pretty big, but how does it compare to Overwatch, the game that was the new hotness until people had a chance to, well, watch it played?
For the Overwatch finals, the cost per team is going to be $20m, although we know that has changed since, but we’ll take the initial buy-in for each league to be fair. There was a lot of talk about OWL failing to deliver over the course of the weekend, but it hit an overall peak of 2.125m people (which does drop by around 2m if you take out the CN stream). That means for $5m less, you can in theory reach ten times the viewers, at an average price of about $9.50 or so.
The daddy of all esports franchise leagues is, of course, League of Legends, the game that does arguably more for the esports world than any other, and we were told last year that you could get a League franchise spot for about $10m, if you were lucky enough to be selected. For the comparison, we’ll use viewing figures from LoL Worlds 2018, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the disparity more than those investors comparing this with Call of Duty.
For the 2018 Worlds, which is as big in Asia as it is in the west, the peak viewing figure was 205m. That’s right, over 200m people, if you included Chinese stream numbers, tuned in, and there were more than 2m without the CN figure included. This works out at $0.04 per eyeball, which is a stark contrast to OWL, let alone Call of Duty.
Now, there are advantages to Call of Duty that League and Overwatch don’t have, like the massive casual player base and huge social media presence of the main stars, but in esports teams you can see just how badly new owners could potentially be ripped off if the plan doesn’t cause a massive explosion in CoD esports. It’d be nice to think potential owners have learned from Overwatch, and will try to drive down the price but, as the saying goes, there is one born every minute.