Presented by Telstra
I find many aspects of my role incredibly interesting, rewarding and inspiring.
Helping to build and maintain the global internet network that enables technology, media and entertainment companies to do what they do and distribute their products and services into new markets is certainly one of them. But also high on the list is the chance to, every now and then, play a part in helping to establish a new industry.
Telstra’s helping to do that right now with gaming and esports – two of the major bright spots of 2020. Both industries have thrived despite the widespread disruption to our day-to-day lives, the global live events industry and the overall economy.
This gaming and esports boom shows no signs of slowing down, especially since there are now signs that we’ll be getting back to some semblance of normal as we near the halfway point of 2021. Of course, the success of these industries has not happened by chance. It’s a direct result of the combined efforts of the many partners that play a role in the gaming and esports ecosystem, who came together, innovated and adapted to a rapidly changing world.
So, how can we ensure that we’re setting up gaming and esports for long-term success? Well, Telstra recently gathered a group of industry experts for a discussion on this topic. Joining the conversation were Yash Patel from Telstra Ventures, and Steve Mundt from Telstra Americas, Dan Dinh from Team SoloMid, Ron Williams from Subspace and Lisa Cosmas Hanson from Niko Partners. You can check out the full discussion here (it’s an hour well spent, I promise), but in case you don’t have a spare hour, I’d like to share some of the key learnings from the session.
Before I get into that, another resource you might find worthwhile is a white paper co-written by Telstra and Niko Partners, which explores the many factors contributing to successful gaming and esports experiences, as well as the significant potential revenue opportunities in both North American and Asian markets.
Now on to the good stuff…
Gaming grows up
The success gaming and esports experienced in 2020 was boosted by the ingenuity of game publishers and developers, esports organizations and teams, as well as the evolution of gaming and esports into full-fledged mainstream forms of entertainment.
Traditional sports leagues, with their venues dark and games canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, increasingly turned to gaming and esports to keep their fans connected and engaged.
Game platforms like Fortnite and Roblox hosted unique virtual experiences such as in-game concerts. Twitch, Discord and other streaming platforms continued to explode in viewership.
Another sure sign of market maturity was growing interest from advertisers and rights-holders, as esports leagues and tournaments began finding new homes online and on television. The rising profile of these events has led to a heightened need for enhanced network connectivity, beyond the capabilities of gaming group-chat platforms and requiring livestream and event broadcast capabilities more elaborate than just the web browsers of attendees’ computers.
As a result, network connectivity is continually becoming more essential and more visible across the gaming and esports industries, not only to help ensure fair play and game performance for both amateur and professional gamers, but to help gaming and esports companies work together to increase diversity, equity and access for everyone involved.
How will gaming and esports continue to evolve and adapt in 2021, and what technologies and trends should publishers, developers and esports organizations consider deploying to keep up the momentum?
Strengthening the network, leveling the playing field
In 2020, live events were put on hold as “the pandemic threw a wrench into many of our operations,” according to Dan Dinh at TeamSoloMid (TSM).
TSM has fielded some of the most talented and successful professional esports teams in North America, competing across multiple titles such as League of Legends, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros. and Rocket League. It also has one of the largest, most engaged fan bases in esports with nearly 100 million followers across multiple social platforms.
Ensuring safety and performance were key factors in shaping TSM’s shift in 2020. As more gaming moved online, multiple players began participating from separate locations. The issue was each location meant different network providers, fluctuating connection speeds and a host of other variables. As a result, TSM formed “mini-bubbles,” bringing players together at its studios in a safe environment. In these bubbles, players are able to all share the same stable and reliable internet connection and follow public health and safety guidelines such as regular testing.
“As a gamer, having less noise and stable internet is super important,” Dinh said. “Imagine you're competing in gaming, or in any sport, and you lose your equipment for just a fraction of a minute. You're so far behind. That was challenging given the pandemic, and this is one of the ways we solved it.”
Clearly, network infrastructure and services will continue to be a critical part of any development plan for games and esports, as well as the continued growth of the gaming industry throughout the pandemic and afterwards.
Across our business, Telstra has always prioritized forging the right partner relationships, identifying new areas of demand and continually growing our global network presence. So when the pandemic hit, our customers came to us and the first important piece that they needed to address was continuity of business, making sure their networks were always up and could handle the increased demand.
That’s been one of the key lessons learned in the past year, by both gaming organizations and telco providers: always be prepared. During the pandemic, online usage surged across all applications, particularly streaming, collaboration and gaming, and many companies were not prepared to quickly and sufficiently scale their networks to meet this unforeseen and unprecedented market demand.
“Companies now are looking back at their network strategies,” said our Steve Mundt, “and asking themselves what can be done in the future to adjust and scale a little bit more efficiently instead of playing catch up?”
It all comes back to creating the best user experience possible with the least latency, making sure that once gaming publishers get users on, they're able to stay on and make the most out of their time on a particular platform.
Working on top of Telstra’s network infrastructure are platforms and services like Subspace, “the world's fastest Internet for real-time applications.” The company has built a platform focused on providing a better real-time experience for users across the world and on all types of applications.
In our discussion, Ron Williams from Subspace raised the fascinating perspective that the internet, for all its benefits, was never really meant to handle real-time applications like video games and virtual meetings, where a player’s action or individual's speech is spontaneous and unpredictable.
“The internet is great for video on-demand services,” he said, “where the content tends to be pre-positioned a lot closer to the end user. There are millions of hard drives and many, many gigabytes and petabytes of storage capacity worldwide holding copies of everything on YouTube or Netflix, so the internet doesn't have to worry about delivering that exactly in real time. You can't do that with things like game play or video calls.”
Subspace is deploying equipment worldwide and working with network partners to essentially act as a traffic cop for real-time experiences, constantly measuring the quality of the internet between a user and an application’s servers and then quickly fixing any detected problems.
Investing in new technologies, enhancing user experiences
Like companies in any other market, gaming and esports companies are also keeping an eye on the future, closely watching how emerging technologies like edge computing, network optimization and artificial intelligence (AI) will help bolster the gaming experience. In many ways, demand from gamers is leading the way in technology advancements and setting the stage for the future, and investors are taking notice.
Telstra Ventures, one of Australia’s largest venture capital funds, has invested more than $450 million in 70 companies globally, including several gaming and esports companies, including Subspace and TeamSoloMid.
My colleague Yash Patel, one of Telstra Ventures key investors, noted the plethora of new technologies being developed across gaming and esports makes this the perfect time to focus on these industries from an innovation and an investing perspective. These include the increasing acceptance of 5G, the rise of mobile gaming and new monetization models, combined with increasing pop culture relevance due to celebrities and influencers getting involved with esports events.
“This is the moment to be investing,” he said, adding that Telstra is continually evaluating its portfolio of gaming and esports. This includes a company called HeadSpin, which is using its AI platform to enable accessibility for all gamers globally and ensure a better user experience regardless of network, device or geography.
“When we think about accessibility for gamers everywhere, that doesn’t just mean gamers in the U.S.,” he said. “There are folks competing in India, China and Latin America. Democratizing gaming is not only the right thing to do, it can be very lucrative.”
Diversity, inclusivity … opportunity
One of the biggest issues facing gaming and esports, as it evolves and grows, is diversity, inclusion and equal access. Lisa Hanson from Niko Partners noted, “Organizations are thinking beyond just the tournament because there is so much more involved. Diversity, inclusion and equal access are really important in the world, and gaming is no exception.”
Dan from TSM added that focusing on equity is not only right, it’s an opportunity as well to capture more market share noting that, even until recently, esports showed a ratio of 95 percent men to 5 percent women. Reversing, or at least balancing, this ratio will not only lead to more inclusivity, it will also drive growth across the industry.
“When I talk to my sponsors or any company I work with,” he said, “inclusivity is such a big part of their initiative, and we want to really promote that. Creating a safe space for everybody to play games regardless of gender or identity is super important for the future of any sport.”
Lisa Hanson added that the increase in clubs, organizations and leagues focused on women gamers is a strong indicator that “the needle is pointed in the direction of where the growth avenues are.”
While nobody knows what the next year (or even the next month!) will bring, one statement we can confidently make is these trends and this industry growth will absolutely continue. Working with its partners across gaming and esports, Telstra will be ready to enable the key technologies that will ensure the industries’ success as well as keep the game-playing field level, fair and inclusive.
Adam Day is responsible for sales, go-to-market strategy, customer experience and growth across the enterprise, technology, and media and broadcast industries for Telstra Americas. With extensive experience in the global technology and telecommunications market, through a decade-plus career with Telstra spanning Sydney, London, New York and San Francisco, Adam oversees cross-regional teams that enable U.S. based companies to grow their businesses into the Asia-Pacific region through global internet solutions, and network architecture and infrastructure. These solutions enable media and content, software and SaaS, gaming and esports, ecommerce, hosting and cloud organizations to thrive in a connected world.