Opening Up the Esports Ecosystem, One Feature at a TimeBy Dan Eidell
Feature Gaming is creating the infrastructure that will define esports as the industry matures. Feature’s platform-agnostic solution will unlock streamers’ earning potential and allow them to engage with fans and players like never before. Midwest Scout Dan Eidell sat down with Founder and CEO Knox Dobbins to discuss the platform, its appeal, and unveil an exciting set of product updates!
Once upon a time, Instagram was simple. Rather than serving as an all-consuming black hole of memes, dog videos, and advertisements, the platform was – not unlike Facebook – a way to view friends’ photos and stay updated on their lives. Today, however, we know it as much more. Over time, adjacent businesses like Choosy have enabled an ecosystem to form. Instagram has grown into a full-fledged business platform where content creators – “influencers” – generate revenue by engaging their followers in multiple ways and across multiple mediums. Not surprisingly, these business have unlocked the potential of influencer marketing; the industry has grown 400% since 2016 alone. Why does this matter in the context of gaming? Because, having seen explosive growth in viewership and interest, gaming is primed for the development of a similar ecosystem.
For streamers, gaming is an all-consuming activity. Top players can earn $50,000 per hour to play new games, and often spend over 12 hours a day (and over 3,000 hours per year) online. Though lucrative, any time offline represents a material financial loss. Taking a weekend off leads to a lower number subscription, fewer donations, lower sales, and fewer sponsorship opportunities. Taken together, these losses represent millions in lost income. Feature hopes to fill that void.
Wanna know the struggles of streaming over other jobs? I left for less than 48 hours and lost 40,000 subscribers on twitch. I’ll be back today (Wednesday) grinding again.
— Ninja (@Ninja) June 13, 2018
Filling the Void
Feature has created a platform-agnostic solution that allows any streamer to recover these losses by engaging their fans even when offline. Currently integrated with Twitch and Mixer (Youtube Gaming, Facebook Gaming, and Caffeine are all coming soon), Feature layers on top of a streamer’s game of choice and offers retention tools that limit these losses. The first offering – a tournament hosting and scheduling platform – enables gamers to host tournaments and offer prizes without actually being online. Each tournament is accompanied by a real-time scoreboard, performance stats, and an accompanying chat room that allows players to interact with each other and, more importantly, the host. According to Dobbins, starting with tournaments was a natural choice.
“We found a massive desire by streamers to be able to host their own tournaments for their communities (their fans and viewers) to participate in. Streaming is often pretty tough with some of them logging even full 24-hr streams just to keep their community engaged. Many of them view tournaments as a way for them to lower their overall stream time and substitute it by hosting a tournament.” – Knox Dobbins, Founder and CEO
The company envisions these tournaments will create a new, three-pronged revenue stream for streamers. First, they have the ability to set an entry fee to play in their tournaments. Second, Feature cultivates a list of potential sponsors for these tournaments, allowing the streamer to choose their ultimate partner and offering both the streamer and the sponsor post-tournament analytics and engagement information. Finally, as is true in most current games, users actually playing in a given game or tournament have the ability to buy additional (virtual) goods during the course of playing.
The Tip of the Iceberg
To the uninitiated, this may sound absurd. Yet, as the numbers of esports viewers and players continue to grow, the value of this type of engagement will explode. According to Streamlabs, viewers watched 2.7 billion hours of video games on Twitch in the second quarter of 2019. Though this actually represents a decline for Twitch year-over-year, growth on other platforms translated into overall growth. Many viewers already spend more time watching video game streams per week than they do live sports. Moreover, they are ready to spend money. Gaming research company SuperData recently found millennials spend $112 per month on gaming content, including $29 directly to streamers. If the number of viewers doubles by 2021 as expected, the economic opportunity becomes even more significant.
Feature is not alone in pursuing this opportunity. For tournaments in particular, competitors like Toornament, Sports Gamet, and Battlefy all exist and provide similar functionality. Mainline, which handled much of the production and broadcasting of ESPN’s first ever college esports championship, also recently announced a $6.8 million Series A that will be used, in part, to expand the company’s tournament hosting services. Yet, Dobbins believes Feature will be well equipped to capitalize on an exploding market and offer streamers a full set of tools with which to engage their audiences.
“Other platforms have built their products focused on gaming tournaments lacking many of the aspects that can attract players to join the tournaments. What we’ve found, however, is that a strong community is the only way these can be successful on a broad spectrum. Building a strong global community of gamers and content creators is a major part of our vision and we have a ton of exciting plans in our roadmap to make that a reality.” – Knox Dobbins, Founder and CEO
Saving the Best for Last
Feature’s initial iOS app (available here) launched late last year and, until now, has remained the only way to engage with the platform. However, between recent app updates (DAUs are up 300% in Beta testing) and the launch of the company’s web interface (expected early Feb.), Dobbins believes in the future of Feature.
“We’re super excited about our website launch in early Feb and hope it will become an essential part of every streamer’s channel.” – Knox Dobbins, Founder and CEO
Only time will tell if this prediction comes true. But, even if it only becomes even a fraction of what Instagram is, Feature would still come out on top.