Nielsen wants to track audiences and more for esports events, such as these fall 2016 League of Legends semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

There’s been plenty written about the growth of esports, but not a lot of great tools to track just what that growth encompasses and who’s actually watching. As Bloomberg’s Eben Novy-Williams writes, Nielsen is trying to address that, launching a separate esports division that will draw from both their Nielsen Games and Nielsen Sports North America divisions. They’re looking to more accurately measure a variety of data that they can compare with traditional sports:

Professional video gaming is the next big thing. How big that is, though, is hard to say. Some estimates pegged it as a $493 million industry in 2016, others said it was nearly twice as big. As for the audience, some say it’s 85 percent male, others say it’s 56 percent male. No one really knows.

Nielsen is ready to figure it out. The audience-measurement company is launching a new division, Nielsen Esports, to quantify the rapidly growing industry for teams, sponsors, advertisers and publishers.

“Nielsen knows sports, Nielsen knows games, and we obviously know audience,” said Nicole Pike, vice president of Nielsen Games, who will co-lead the new division. “To us that’s the perfect confluence of expertise to enter esports.”

As more traditional sports owners and advertisers invest in esports, Nielsen will focus on sponsorship valuations, investment strategy and audience measurement — metrics that it can compare across traditional sports. While there’s been rapid growth in the industry, “consistent and high-quality data has been a challenge to measure and define,” said Craig Levine, chief executive officer of esports event organizer ESL.

In addition to Pike, Nielsen Sports North America managing director Stephen Master will co-lead the division, and it will involve people from both of their groups. There’s also going to be an advisory board with representatives from important esports stakeholders like ESL, Amazon (owner of Twitch), Facebook, Twitter, and Activision Blizzard, and that board will help define the measurement standards. So it sounds like they’ll come up with some good data here as to how many people actually watch big esports events (such as last year’s League of Legends world championship semifinals at Madison Square Garden, seen above in a photo from the League of Legends esports Facebook page).

Nielsen’s experience with measuring traditional TV and sports should help, too, as they’re well aware of the different metrics people try to use to pump up online numbers relative to TV (such as emphasizing total views over average minute audience and including debatable conceptions of a “view”). There certainly is a substantial esports audience, especially online, but it’s been tough to accurately compare it to TV metrics. This should hopefully help. The insight into sponsorship valuations and investment strategy could be interesting too. We’ll see how this works out, and how many people subscribe to the new data, but this certainly has some potential.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.