Why Netflix needs esports

Stranger Things. Black Mirror. The Crown. Ozark. Still with me?

Dave Chappelle. Orange is the New Black. My Next Guest Is featuring David Letterman. Narcos. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and yes, House of Cards. However, we no longer speak of the latter show with the same delight as seasons past. Thanks Kevin.

The point being, is that you’re probably addicted to a Netflix series or two. You’re also likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when your ‘watch partner’ can’t exactly keep up with the previously agreed upon binge schedule (which throws you for an unexpected boomerang). Being the good person that you are though, and not wanting to succumb to the life of a lowly Netflix cheater, you’re more likely to flip over to live TV when deprivation strikes, rather than sneak another episode of whatever’s in the queue.

Wait, what? Why did you switch over to live TV again?

If you’re honest with yourself, then it’s likely because starting a new series is a big investment of your time. On the flip side, it would be great to emotionally invest in something that actually ends before season six, or bedtime for that matter. Perhaps something live.

Enter Amazon’s Twitch and the Overwatch League (OWL).

Before you get too happy, please understand that neither Twitch nor the Overwatch League are original series. Twitch is a live streaming video platform owned by Amazon, and the Overwatch League is a professional esports league for the video game under the same title, Overwatch. The game itself was developed by Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of World of Warcraft and Starcraft. Twitch and Blizzard both inked a two-year streaming deal, in which the former will stream the Overwatch League’s regular season games, followed by tournament play thereafter.

It sounds convoluted, I know.

To catch you up a bit, the Overwatch League consists of twelve franchised teams, each representing a major city ranging from San Francisco to Shanghai. Like other professional sports organizations, these teams are owned and operated by some extremely heavy hitters. One of the franchises, Boston Uprising, is owned by Robert Kraft, the same guy that owns the New England Patriots. Maybe you’ve heard of them. The Los Angeles Gladiators are owned by Stan Kroenke. Kroenke also owns the Denver Nuggets basketball team and the Los Angeles Rams football team. The owners of the New York Mets baseball team, the Wilpon family, control OWL’s New York Excelsior franchise. Other owners include the likes of Seoul Dynasty’s Kevin Chou, the former CEO of Kabam.

Now, let’s be clear. If you watch The Crown on Netflix, then your demographic probably doesn’t have much overlap with those watching esports streamed live on Twitch. However, there’s a bigger royalty at stake here than simply matching demographics. It’s more about the ground floor opportunity, and in this case, Twitch has struck first.

Though mainstream professional gaming is still in its infancy, the 11th-hour streaming deal between Twitch and Blizzard could help esports go from 0-to-100 REAL QUICK! The moment is akin to the NFL getting hitched with television networks before billion dollar Super Bowl commercials became the norm. The only difference now is that the platform (online streaming) and game are both digital. It’s all about production quality and precision for this genre. Having the cameras zero-in on a player’s blistered finger, sweaty eyebrow, or confident facial expression while she sits at her gaming station is about as physical as the game gets. These commentators are good though, so believe you me, there’s never a dull moment.

As it stands, Netflix also has a good thing going. Dumping DVD’s and going all-in on streaming and original content was a good first strike. To keep up with Jeff Bezos & Co. though, Netflix may want to consider an esports counterstrike of its own. If live streaming esports is to be the future of gaming, then Netflix needs to get in. After all, there’s more than one popular game publisher to partner with, and create a league around. At the same time, deals are quickly being inked following the Twitch news, as Facebook reportedly cut a deal with ESL for the exclusive rights to stream Dota 2 and Counter Strike GO.

It’s also not unfathomable to think that Amazon won’t eventually port everything from its Prime Video service over to Twitch, thereby competing with Netflix as a direct standalone. While viewers of Netflix’s The Crown may not resonate with esports, those that enjoy Luke Cage, The OA, and Punisher might prove to be a more suitable audience for gaming.

At any rate, this is about shaping Netflix’s future target audience, while continuing to groom its current customers.

Netflix is about engagement, just as much as it is about original content. A venture into esports not only taps into a new genre and demographic, but also makes way for live streaming of other formats. The content already exists, yet it awaits the production magic of a Netflix studio. As it pertains to esports, Amazon’s Twitch is already in. Google’s YouTube is likely circling the waters with loaded coffers. And yes, Disney’s BAMTech Media has been dipping its toes in the shallow end of the pool for some time now. If Netflix intends to be more than just a digital HBO, and truly wants to extend its global lead, then it needs to be in too.