eSports and Digital Signage: A Match Made in Heaven

Zachary Todd

When I learned that SNA Displays was dipping its toe into the world of esports I couldn’t have been happier. Can you blame me? My generation was arguably the first to see in-home video games become a staple. And I dove headfirst into the genre during college after my parents heavily regulated my video game access as a child.

Gaming is more than a mere leisure activity to alleviate boredom (though that aspect does exist). The video games that most captivate gamers are either pulse-racing competitive games that provide an opportunity to spend time with friends across the country or immersive story-telling experiences that drop the player into new digital worlds. Through its interactive nature, a well-written video game story can create a more intense bond with characters than many novels, plays, TV series, or movies.

But for those who didn’t spend countless hours honing their gaming chops, I’ll take a shot at showing why esports is such a big deal for the LED display industry and vice-versa. I’ll also touch on some of the technical considerations for choosing the appropriate LED display technology for esports events.

What is eSports?

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Simply put, esports is any form of organized competition using multiplayer video games. These contests can be player-versus-player or team-versus-team and often take place in arenas with elaborate visual setups including large-format LED screens (more on that later).

It’s important to note that esports is not merely electronic football or soccer, though these competitions do exist. eSports cover all games that involve competition; think Fortnite, Rocket League, and League of Legends, all of which feature intense gameplay, high-end graphics, and a unique style of commentators.

The top game in the first-person shooter genre right now is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the new up-and-comer is Valorant. The first-person point-of-view and speed of gameplay means digital display performance and flow of information through the venue’s production or control room is absolutely critical.

Strategy/non-shooter games like DOTA 2 and League of Legends build the action more slowly over the length of the match, culminating in a tense end-game flurry of activity, much like the sequence of a thrilling action movie. These types of games have a top-down, third-person point of view so the LED screens manage fewer fine details. Instead of trying to capture crosshairs or enemies peaking around corners as with a first-person POV, the production room is more likely focusing on screen-in-screen abilities. So in terms of production, the control room will want to show the audience the overall field of battle and what’s on multiple players’ screens.   

For more, check out this article: Top 10 Esports Games of 2020 by Total Winnings.

How Big is the eSports Industry?

eSports is a rapidly growing industry. As of 2020, the videogame industry is bigger than movies and North American sports combined, with global gaming sales at nearly $180 billion. Also, nearly half a billion people worldwide watch esports. Some competitions even have prize pools as high as $20 million.

Additionally, esports have made their way into colleges both for competitive play and collegiate study (after all, someone has to develop and integrate games and gaming hardware, and technical expertise is always in demand). The National Association of College Esports reports over 170 schools in the U.S. have esports programs, with more than 5,000 students participating.

Some collegiate teams compete globally and still others are affiliated with traditional sports teams that have grabbed a slice of the esports action. Professional sports franchises are increasingly creating their own esports variants whose members share the team jersey. In other cases, sponsors are starting their own teams because the barrier to creating or owning an esports team is significantly lower than traditional sports, and the payoff is growing.

Esports video screen

And of course, there’s all the peripheral branding and digital swag opportunities. For example, high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton are collaborating with videogame studios to make custom in-game items. Just imagine a high-definition LED screen featuring the 30-foot avatar of a well-known esports competitor decked out in customized gear from top fashion designers – talk about crossover opportunities!

Then there’s the human element to consider. eSports is far more inclusive than most traditional sports. People from nearly all ages, social groups, and demographics can participate as the intuitive virtual format eliminates most language and geographic barriers. It’s a largely egalitarian form of competition­ – one need not be in peak physical condition to dominate in esports, and the technological advancements of the last decade allow people with a wide range of disabilities to participate on equal footing.  

Though high-end gaming rigs can cost thousands of dollars, such setups are not required for casual enjoyment or even legitimate competition. One can get by on a basic console and many of those can be shared in gaming cafes, so one doesn’t need a large upfront investment to play. So, the door is open for nearly anyone to get involved.

While much of esports’ appeal stems from its global accessibility­ and ability to participate from the comfort of home, live spectating is as exhilarating for esports as other sports, often more so because the action frequently occurs at a faster pace. I’ve been to both, and I must admit that I get more amped up during many esports matches than at traditional sporting events.

In many esports competitions, games are won or lost over reaction times that differ in fractions of a second. Big plays broadcast on giant LED screens generate just as much of an electrifying, raucous response from the crowd as traditional sports.

During COVID-19, esports saw a major acceleration because people could participate in isolation, propelling the genre into the mainstream. eSports is still mostly an underserved market with an audience eager for content. Communicating with that audience and designing digital displays for esports arenas is similar to traditional sports but requires rethinking things a bit.

eSports and Digital Signage

From a technological standpoint, video games with increasingly life-like visuals have enhanced the viewing experience. Games now frequently run smoothly at 60 frames per second with 4K resolution, resulting in extremely realistic animations and deeply immersive experiences. While much of the staggering computational power behind these gaming engines is done on the players’ personal machines, the rich, photorealistic details these games produce look amazing on the appropriate digital canvas.

In other words, indoor digital display products are the perfect technology for audiences to get the most out of esports graphics. Plus, avid gamers want the hottest products–the latest and most powerful technology–so they are more likely to be early adopters.

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The immense visual power of today’s direct-view LED video screens are perfect for esports. And they fulfill the much-needed capability of switching rapidly between multiple sources to capture both the on-screen action and the competitors’ reactions in real time, usually with screen-in-screen capability. eSports audiences like to watch games from their favorite player’s point of view, so the technology must be capable of providing several feeds on the same large-format LED display.

High-performance LED technology provides esports viewers much finer details than what you might see on the digital displays typically chosen for a “stick and ball” sports arena. While traditional sports fans are more likely to forgive poor image quality or latency since the real-life action is on the field, the big screen is everything for esports viewers, so display reliability and visual quality are paramount. No visual elements can get lost in the shadows or become oversaturated. Likewise, the screen needs to accommodate a broad spectrum of colors and shades to ensure fidelity to the wide range of art styles found in modern video games. 

Given the on-screen focus of esports events, direct-view indoor LED displays with tight pixel pitches and, thus, high resolution are critical. The right video display screen allows the venue to fine-tune a screen’s brightness so that viewers see the most amount of detail possible. Tiny visual elements like crosshairs can be crucial to the gaming experience. For help with some of the finer details relating to picture quality, see informative eBriefs on topics such as understanding pixel pitch, pixel packaging, and bit depth.

As you can see, the esports industry and LED display manufacturers are a match made in heaven. One provides thrilling action and content, the other provides the hardware and expertise to bring the action and content to life.

For more, download SNA Displays’ eBrief GAME ON!: Digital Signage and the Burgeoning eSports Industry.

Zachary Todd is a communications associate with SNA Displays, copywriting and editing a variety of communications material such as company news releases, blogs, and case studies.

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