Activision Blizzard (ATVI -0.60%) is widely considered the best way to invest in esports given its ownership of the Call of Duty World League, Overwatch League, and esports streaming network Major League Gaming. There's no question that the opportunity for Activision Blizzard is enormous, but it may not ultimately be the biggest winner in esports.
Amazon (AMZN 2.49%) has built up the dominant gaming streaming service, Twitch TV, after purchasing Twitch in 2014, and it's here that esports may find its home. It's Twitch TV that agreed to spend $90 million to be the exclusive streaming home of Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League for the next two years; those who are into esports know that it's the place to stream content. At any given time, there are at least half a million viewers streaming game content on the platform, and right now, Activision Blizzard's games don't crack the top four. It's that diversity that makes me believe Twitch TV might end up being the biggest winner in esports.
Esports is big business and it needs streaming TV
Streaming media is the key distribution platform for esports and there are millions of people viewing content. Overwatch League reported that 10 million people watched its first week of play, and given the number of people on Twitch TV at odd hours of the day, I don't find that hard to believe.
The number of people watching Overwatch League convinced HP and Intel to agree to reported $17 million and $10 million advertising deals, respectively, with the league. T-Mobile, Toyota, and Sour Patch Kids have signed advertising deals as well. These are league revenues, but if these companies will spend that kind of money on one league, just imagine what they'll spend to advertise on the Twitch TV platform 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Twitch's overall opportunity could put Overwatch League's revenue to shame, yet Activision Blizzard will still rely on Twitch as a critical partner in order to keep its own league revenue sources intact and growing.
Twitch TV can play anywhere
The beauty for Twitch TV is that it doesn't have to be beholden to specific game. As I'm writing midday Tuesday, Fortnite (with 194,000 viewers), God of War (110,000 viewers), League of Legends (107,000 viewers), and Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (81,000 viewers) are the most popular games streaming on the platform. The games are built by a variety of publishers and wax and wane in popularity. To show how fast things change, Fortnite was released only nine months ago and has taken the world by storm, something Twitch TV is clearly able to exploit very quickly.
Twitch TV even has some of its own network effects, because the more users are watching, the more good players and game developers will want to be on it, which will attract more viewers and so forth. For Twitch TV and Amazon, the money will keep flowing in from multiple revenue streams.
Another Prime leverage point
Not only will Twitch TV generate significant revenue from official leagues like Overwatch League and Call of Duty World League events, the platform has ongoing revenue streams for Amazon. It has advertising on an ongoing basis, which in turn pays players who are popular on the platform. More importantly, there's a product called Twitch Prime, which is really just a free extension of Amazon Prime that gives Twitch Prime users free in-game loot in games, ad-free streaming, and discounts on games purchased on Amazon. Maybe gamers can save a few minutes by ordering their household items on Prime?
Amazon Prime may not seem like the kind of product that would benefit from esports, but when the most popular esports streaming channel is owned by Amazon, it makes sense that Prime would be a point of leverage for the company. It seems there's nowhere Amazon doesn't reach -- even in esports.