The members of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team, Virtus.pro, aren’t the only winners at the culmination of Turner and WME/IMG’s inaugural 10-week ELeague. Buffalo Wild Wings, one of the primary sponsors of the event, has committed to the first year of Turner eSports, including the upcoming $300,000 Overwatch Open with FaceIt.
ELeague, which focused on digital coverage of CS:GO competition four days a week with Friday night television matches, saw over 897 million gross minutes of video consumption on TBS and Twitch. ELeague also attracted more than 3.4 million new viewers to TBS during its 10-week season, with the audience composition consisting heavily of millennial viewers falling in the coveted male 18-34 demographic.
Bob Ruhland, vice president of North America marketing at Buffalo Wild Wings, talks to [a]listdaily about what these Turner numbers mean for his restaurant chain in this exclusive interview.
Why did you decide to enter into eSports with Turner?
It was the perfect combination that brought a new audience together with a trusted partner we had with our NCAA basketball relationship. Turner told us where they were going and about the relationship with IMG in getting talent, and the model of having the best-of-the-best top gamers in the country combined with the discipline behind Turner Broadcasting. All the planets aligned.
Who is your typical Buffalo Wild Wings consumer?
Our typical demo with media marketing is 18-49, but we tend to skew younger. It’s important to look at growth vehicles to build our fans of tomorrow. We look at people who are younger than 18 like a farm team. We think that this ELeague opportunity can help build up our fans of the future. ELeague spans both younger viewers and our traditional demographic, so it’s a great opportunity to engage with both.
How does ELeague viewership compare to your NCAA basketball fans?
There’s a lot of overlap with our NCAA basketball audience. We define our core audience as MPVs. They enjoy casual dining and want to be socially engaged. There are a lot of common threads across NCAA basketball and eSports. We do regular surveys and we know that two-thirds of our MVPs are engaged with gaming on smartphones.
Have you asked MVPs about eSports?
Not yet. We have some info on MVPs from previous surveys. We’re now changing some of the questions we have, from a research perspective, to get more info about their gaming. We have enough evidence today to know that it’s the right way to communicate directionally, but we need more evidence so we’re reaching out to MVPs and asking questions around this category.
What are your thoughts on the Season 1 stats Turner released on ELeague?
Everything we anticipated happening, happened. We were impressed, from a Turner perspective, in the production and how people who tuned in on Fridays could see where everyone was in the whole (CS:GO) map so they knew what was coming—which you don’t get in the game itself.
Do you anticipate any changes for Season 2?
Seasons can’t be as long as they were. We knew this was an area that was going to change in a hurry. Even Turner offering Overwatch as a bridge season before they go into CS:GO Season 2 is a good example of them learning on-the-fly.
How long are you committed to ELeague?
We’re a sponsor of ELeague for the full year. Turner only wanted to do one-year commitments for ELeague. We’re in for whatever they decide they’re going to rally around for that first year. We’ll have the same role in Overwatch as we did with CS:GO. Then they’ll go to the second season CS:GO later in the year.
What are your thoughts on the flexibility Turner has had with eSports?
Craig Barry, EVP at Turner, did a good job of building out this first year. It’s interesting to see how many different games they’re focusing on.
We were at Turner Studios about two weeks ago to get a chance to watch Craig and how he’s approaching this in a fluid way. He’d tell us: “this is what we think is going to work, but as the year progresses and we see what’s happening on Twitch, we’ll adapt to this.” This is the way this category has to be, changing on-the-fly.
What has being part of the massive Twitch audience opened up for your brand?
We have a TV network within our network, B-Dubs, in close to 900 locations now. By the end of this year, it will be in all 1,200 locations. We’re not just focusing on the TBS ELeague broadcasts, but also exploring streaming online (eSports) content in restaurants moving forward as an extension of the Friday Night “Game On” opportunity. That’s really intriguing to us as content participants.
When do you anticipate the streaming of weekly ELeague content in restaurants?
I probably see us going that deep next year. We’re looking at other opportunities around eGaming that extend beyond Turner ELeague and Twitch Showdown. We’re looking at a holistic, national eGaming offering. We’re not limiting it just to Turner.
What’s been your customer reaction to having eSports in restaurants?
This is our first time in eSports. Initially, the reaction has been good. We wanted to do a soft launch with the start of the season to make sure it looked good on the TVs. What we didn’t anticipate was how much demand there would be out of the gate. We missed the expectations of the guests. Overall, we’re comfortable with what we did with our first season.
Did you see an uptick with the Finals?
One thing that happened on Friday was that the ELeague championship occurred on National Chicken Wing Day, so we had half price chicken wings. We don’t know yet if the surge in attendance was because of the first of the two-day Finals or Chicken Wing Day.
Was ELeague bigger than your Twitch Showdown activation July 25-27?
It was bigger for ELeague. Certain locations like Sherman Oaks, CA saw over 80 people who are fans of Luminosity Gaming and Team Karma come in and store sales were up 9 percent that night. It shows us there are opportunities out there, and we should reach out and do more from a local development community perspective to get people into the restaurants. We’ll do that in Season 2 and beyond.
How long had you been exploring eSports before jumping in?
We’ve been looking at this for two years. It was something we’re very proud of, and while we knew it was going to be a big deal, we wanted to make sure we’d done all of our due diligence before we jumped in. This was a great first test and now the genie’s out of the jar.