Technology

Playing Around: What Event Strategists Can Learn From Esports

Yes, there’s an entire industry dedicated to people who play video games competitively. It’s called esports — and there are things it can teach you about compelling online content.

Donny Neufuss

When it comes to live streaming, the esports industry — serving people who play video games competitively — has helped set the standard for delivering engaging online content. Competitive multiplayer games like “League of Legends” and “Dota 2” captivate millions of viewers every month on streaming platforms like Twitch. But how can their success be applied to digital meetings, and what lessons can the business-events industry take from the esports industry?

Donny Neufuss, esports vertical market leader at Production Resource Group, thinks there are quite a few lessons — with some caveats:

REAL-TIME STRATEGY “One of the things I tell the meeting planners and hospitality people is, are you paying attention to the conversation [online]?” Neufuss said. “People are having it whether you know it or not.” It’s up to business-event professionals to initiate those conversations, be aware of what others are saying about their events, and maintain an active dialogue with online audiences. “People are talking about your shows and your conferences —which ones are good, which ones are bad,” Neufuss said. “Are you even aware that they’re having these conversations? Because if you are not telling your stories, somebody else is. You should be actively engaged with these people who are talking about you anyway.”

PLAYER VERSUS PLAYER According to Neufuss, there’s a generation gap between esports audiences and business-event audiences, which affects how each one views online interactions. “The truth of the matter is, this [online experiences from esports tournaments to business-events meetings and conferences] is a relationship. It’s a digital relationship,” Neufuss said. “We just interact, and the generations interact differently.”

And while much of these two audiences don’t overlap for now, that won’t be the case for long. “What I think you can learn from esports is you have to understand that all of these kids who are playing video games — while they will continue to play video games their whole life — eventually they’re going to go to college. Eventually they’re going to get jobs in the professional world,” Neufuss said. “The big thing you’ve got to pay attention to is eventually these people are going to join your association. Eventually they’re going to come to your meetings.”

LEVELING UP As for the content itself, Neufuss has a few suggestions on how business events can take a cue from esports. “The content should be a little bit more curated. That’s one thing you can take away from esports,” Neufuss said. “They have analysts and they produce it a little bit more like television. You have to create the content for the virtual audience. Not just record it and put it online or stream it online.”

TAKE WHAT WORKS Video gamers and social-media influencers are “just good at hyping [events] up,” Neufuss said. “Why aren’t speakers doing that? Part of it’s incumbent upon the organizers. They have to create a platform that allows the speakers to promote themselves.”

Not that everything is applicable — or worthy of emulation. “I would say that the esports industry by no means is perfect,” Neufuss said. “Obviously, with a lot of YouTube stars, they can be quite unsavory. Shocking and unruly. We don’t necessarily want to model ourselves after all of them.”

EXPERIMENT WITH CAUTION “I think [business-events professionals] think for themselves that, well, this year we’re going to have an app, and it’s going to have gamification. That will attract the younger audience,” Neufuss said. “The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t. Technology doesn’t solve a problem.”

Neufuss also notes that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to digital engagement. “There’s just some meetings that need to be conducted the way they’re conducted because of the subject matter or the sensitivity of the subject, and things like that,” Neufuss said. “Don’t just start spending money on digital apps. Don’t start spending money on a bunch of digital engagement. Be conscious of what’s going on outside of your industry, but don’t jump all in. I’ve been always a big fan of just dipping your toes in.”

Read more digital-event stories from our CMP Series “Screen Time.” 

Jasmine Zhu