GUEST ARTICLE: How blockchain and the metaverse are revolutionising esports and boosting fan engagement

Mumbai: The gaming and esports industries, both in India and worldwide, have come a long way since their humble beginnings. From physical world cardboard games to playing Super Mario on 16-bit gaming consoles to the era of PlayStation and XBox to now playing e-games, fantasy, and multiplayer esports battle tournaments on smartphones, gaming has really evolved and become more organised and interactive with time. What is the next stage of evolution for the esports and gaming industries?

To answer that, the next big growth frontier for the esports domain will be based on the dual wonders of metaverse and blockchain-based gaming, which are bound to transform the industry and take fan engagement to a whole new level. But the questions are how and why? Let’s delve deep to find out.

The market and the promise

Blockchain technology is already positively transforming the esports industry as we know it. If there is a time for blockchain-based gaming, then it is now. Today, global investors, brands, media outlets, and consumers are nothing but immensely bullish about the possibility of esports and blockchain-based gaming in the metaverse. As per insider intelligence estimates, the total viewership of esports is expected to grow at a 9 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2019 and 2023. A report by the Federation of Electronic Sports Associations of India (FEAI) predicts that the total size of India’s esports industry will be more than Rs 1,000 crore by 2025. In another latest report published by Finder, India has gained the top spot in terms of the adoption of NFT gaming and play-to-earn games, with 34 per cent of the surveyed reporting having played P2E games, and an additional 11 per cent of them willing to play such games in the near future.

What do all of these statistics tell us? It tells us that a gaming revolution is on the horizon, and furthermore, esports within the metaverse and blockchain technology’s applications in esports are poised to be big in the coming decade. The concept of metaverse and blockchain, coupled with augmented reality and NFTs, are inter-related, with critics now arguing that blockchain, with its decentralised architecture, can help esports and games thrive both in the real-world as well as in the metaverse, by overcoming the shortcomings of centralised data storage.

Blockchain - the disruption driver in esports arena

The biggest advantage of blockchain is its decentralisation, which removes intermediaries and empowers players to be the decision-making authorities while adding real-world value to their virtual assets, including in-game ones. The decentralised structure of blockchain helps to bring all the stakeholders of esports like players, sponsors, media, team managers, and advertisers under one roof, thus enabling easy management and distribution of prize money, media rights, sponsorship, and fan engagement.

With the rise of blockchain-based esports and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in esports, a new gaming model is emerging based around real asset ownership. And thereby, the new "play-to-earn" model is enabling esports to move away from free-to-play and pay-to-play models. In addition, through blockchain applications, players can get rewarded with cryptocurrencies for playing—which will be another advantage along with the emergence of the ‘metaverse’.

Furthermore, blockchain addresses two of the industry's major concerns: security and vulnerability, by making transactions safe, transparent, and fair by providing a decentralised, transparent ledger where no single entity controls the network, making attack or hacking nearly impossible. Also, due to low transactional costs, it is easier to transfer money or any other tokenized asset across the globe, thus democratising the sector and improving accessibility for stakeholders.

Fan engagement 2.0: blockchain and the metaverse 

Blockchain gaming can take fan engagement to the next level by placing players and the fans at the heart of everything they do – from the creation of fan-centric ecosystems that will enable greater interaction between fans and teams, improving relationships with sponsors, unlocking new revenue streams and much more! To begin with, fan loyalty solutions can be created through blockchain technology, which provides a frictionless way for sponsors, partners, and fans to utilise loyalty tokens across the ecosystem. Fans can also be rewarded for taking certain actions, such as interacting with the team, making purchases from sponsors, or watching advertisements.

NFTs, for example, can be viewed as the digital equivalent of trading cards in the future, with entire leagues, teams, and individuals licencing them today. Harnessing NFTs can unlock multiple opportunities for esports fans, who can use NFTs to unlock access to VIP spaces, clubs, and channels hosted by leading esports teams, which will allow fans to get closer to their favourite teams and gain a sense of camaraderie. Teams could also build a virtual version of their stadium in the metaverse and sell NFTs as tickets to fans for tours. Over time, NFTs can additionally become the digital tool for membership, rewards, access, and other aspects of ongoing fandom.

Also, blockchain technology can be used to create and develop tokenized membership or fan tokens that may be purchased by fans and used to unlock discounts, rewards, exclusive content, etc. It can also unlock ways of interacting with pro teams/orgs wherein fans can use their token to get exclusive content, digital collectibles, merchandise, or behind-the-scenes sessions. Fans can even use their token to gain voting rights for their favourite epsorts teams and players, giving them a greater sense of belonging to their favourite epsorts teams and players. Moreover, given that blockchain-based platforms are extremely secure, flexible, and easy-to-scale, fans can make use of digital wallets to store and redeem tokens with ease, make transactions incredibly fast, and earn their rewards quicker than traditional loyalty platforms.

On the other hand, esports in the metaverse will evolve to be a close-to-reality experience. What are the ways that the metaverse will make gaming more immersive and boost fan engagement? To start with, we will move from a physical event to an immersive hybrid model where instead of attending a tournament arena to watch the players, one could enter a virtual environment that places one within the play environment itself. Thus, esports tournaments in the metaverse could virtualize the entire experience for fans in a never-seen-before manner.

In conclusion

While metaverse is still in its early stages as of today, there is a growing interest in the Indian start-up ecosystem in the adoption of web 3.0 and blockchain in this sector. No wonder we are witnessing a revolution in gaming with blockchain. The intersection of blockchain, metaverse, and esports is certain to make gaming more integrated with our real-world experiences and will also make fan engagement more deeply personal, unique, and innovative. Together, blockchain and esports will create an ecosystem that will work seamlessly and make gaming more immersive, fun, and engaging for players.

The author of the article is Stan co-founder and CEO Parth Chadha.

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