Whether or not investors actually believe the field is a sport, "eSports" have gained enough global attention for the debate to at least be warranted. With the industry gaining national media coverage and is officially defined in Dictionary.com; it only makes sense that a notable investment firm would break down this sector of the video game market.
Enter the Macquarie equity research team, who analyzed the industry inch-by-inch. Macquarie analyzes third-party industry research, highlights derivative vertical growth opportunities (aka gambling & fantasy sports), as well as key calls in analysts' coverage universe.
While the report is expansive, there are a few important highlights to be aware of.
“Show me the money,” a classic line, but also a fair statement asked by those skeptical of eSports as a growing sport.
According to SuperData research, by year end the market will be a $612 million dollar sport with a billion dollar valuation by 2018. While that billion dollar mark in 2018 only comprises 1.3 percent of the video game industry, it tallies a 29 percent compound annual growth rate, which is the third best outlook compared to gaming video and virtual reality.
SuperData research also shows that total viewership should increase from 2014’s 117 million to 322 million viewers by 2017. Video consumption is also expected to rise with viewership from 3 billion hours in 2014 to 6.6 billion hours in 2018 according to IHS.
Macquarie analysts also examine one of fans' favorite “verticals” of American Football, fantasy sports and gambling. Though many who play fantasy football can relate to how fantasy sports drives viewership in games, they may not watch regularly.
The same would be applicable to the relationship between fantasy sports and eSports, as viewership and engagement in Twitch.TV and Youtube grows, Macquarie analysts note. Payout size and economic impact may not be as large as conventional sports, they add, but the vertical has gotten support from notable investors. Vulcun, the biggest fantasy eSports platform, has received $13 million from notable firms in investment community such as Sequoia and Matrix Partners.
Even eSports betting like Unikrn has gained $3 million in capital investment.
Pinnacle Sport, a global bookmaker for eSports, says eSports beats golf and rugby in terms of betting volume, placing it as its seventh-biggest market. Analysts at Macquarie believe that with eSports gambling gaining attention, ad revenue and sponsorships will follow.
Lastly, Macquarie highlights companies that are best set to capitalize on the eSports competitive scene. In terms of media, Amazon.com, Inc. AMZN's Twitch.TV and Google Inc GOOG's YouTube are poised to capitalize on ad dollar share going forward.
Twitch and Youtube’s focus to stream live eSports events could capitalize on the extremely valuable millennial and Gen Y audiences who don’t use traditional TV media.
In terms of publishers, Activision Blizzard, Inc. ATVI is by far best set, and most established to grow with eSports moving forward. Long standing games such as "StarCraft" and "StarCraft II" along with the "Call of Duty" franchise have made Activision a giant in the space. Young game titles like "Hearthstone" have surprised many by generating $200 million to $300 million in annual revenue, while Activision’s "Heroes of the Storm" looks to take on Riot Games MOBA titan "League of Legends."
The key to success of both new and old eSports titles is clear: Build strong gaming communities that are continually active and engaged, according to Macquarie analysts Ben Schachter and John Marrick. While Electronic Arts Inc. EA has many traditional sports games, they haven’t found its footing in the eSports scene quite yet.
Nintendo Co., Ltd (ADR) NTDOY was actually against competitive games, but has since changed its tune and reinstated its Nintendo World Championships at the latest E3. The company's mainstay eSports game is "Super Smash Brothers" franchise, but Macquarie analyst David Gibson says to watch out for casual shooting game "Splatoon" as next big hit.
Publishers, as well as media, may need to increase their activity in the space. A rising eSports tide may not lift all companies to equal heights without management focus in this aspect of the gaming industry, the analysts explain.
In the report, Macquarie affirmed its Outperform rating and $26 price target for Activision as analysts are “long-term bulls on both the industry and ATVI."
Macquarie has an Outperform rating and $68 price target for Electronic Arts.
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