Is it really sports when a bunch of teenagers play video games in crowded stadiums? Tens of thousands of people are spellbound, watching every move on the big screens. Stefan Zant has been regularly asked this question for three last years. The good thing is that you can be sure that the 42-year-old comes up with a qualified answer. As managing director, he is responsible for the e-sports division of ProSiebenSat.1, amongst other things. And: He belonged to the international elite of freestyle skiers for six years. "Of course, this is not a physical type of sports like tennis or football. But gamers act under time pressure, they must develop tactics and strategies, coordinate a team and have enormous manual skills. That's sport for me." For many others as well, obviously.
E-Sports is the fastest-growing trend sport in Germany. By 2021 there should be around 10 million fans in Germany. As of today, stadiums are filled with more than 20,000 spectators when professional teams like Astralis or Team Liquid compete against each other. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Intel and Mercedes-Benz already sponsor e-sports events with millions, McDonalds even shifted a considerable part of its sponsoring budget from football to e-sports.
Stefan Zant recognized this development at an early stage. About four years ago, the former management consultant, who had joined ProSiebenSat.1 in 2014 from the Boston Consulting Group, first dealt with the topic. Finding and developing ideas for new business models - that was his job as chief strategist at the Munich media group at the time. "I saw the incredible growth rates in Asia and was sure that this could not only be explained by cultural differences, but that it would become a new international mega-trend", he explains. Under the guidance of the former professional sportsman, a new line of business is gradually emerging.
Zant has ambitious plans right from the start. "We will get e-sports out of the niche in Germany and make them just as popular as other sports." A big advantage for him: In contrast with other competitors, he has a set of TV stations with a large reach behind him, through which he not only wins over the established gaming community, but also creates new fans. Today's reach already shows that this pays off. On Twitch, the leading medium for young gamers, broadcasts of the most important FIFA games previously reached a maximum of 10,000 viewers. "On ProSieben MAXX there are up to 130,000 viewers today", Zant underscores.
Right from the start Zant and his team are pursuing a different strategy than pure gaming platforms like Twitch. "You have to explain e-sports in order to reach new target groups. That's why we were the first in Germany to establish a classic editorial coverage of e-sports." Platforms like Twitch mainly show uncommented live streams of gaming events that last several hours. Zant and his team, on the other hand, work with an editorial team and experts in the studio who classify moves, explain tactics, analyze key scenes - just as we know it from major sports. "Our TV magazine "ran eSports - Professional Gaming Magazine" on ProSieben MAXX gets people tune in and watch after zapping around, who would never stumble over Twitch. That's how we make the market bigger bit by bit."
auf ProSieben MAXX
Another core element is the leading German-language platform www.eSports.com, half of which ProSiebenSat.1 had already taken over a year ago. Now the shares will be increased to 100 percent. "www.eSports.com is an extremely strong brand and domain. We are now focusing on expansion in the German-speaking markets, but are also keeping an eye on internationalization." In Germany, 7Sports ranks as number 1 in terms of e-sports: "There is no other company in this country that can offer the entire range in one package. From broadcasting all important leagues and tournaments to our own events and marketing of some of the most successful German eSports teams.
Discovering new markets and developing them into a relevant business for ProSiebenSat.1 - the 42-year-old manager took to this task like a duck to water. Even as a teenager, Stefan Zant liked to venture into new territory. He is 16 and already Northern Bavarian champion in giant slalom when he switched to the discipline of freestyle skiing, which was still quite unknown at the time. Zant is fascinated by the artistic jumps and the spectacular somersaults in the halfpipe. "I thought that was cool." Zant is ambitious and soon he belongs to the best skiers on the mogul slope. At moments the high school student spends more time at World Cup competitions than in the classroom. Nevertheless, he takes his A-levels without any problems. When his friends start to study, he becomes a professional. For six years he belonged to the international elite of freestyle skiing. In the season 2000/2001 he wins the overall European Cup ranking. When he quit in order t to study business administration at the age of 25, he was eighth in the world ranking. He quickly completed his studies and started a career as a management consultant. "I would do it that way again any time," he says. And for his daughters, now two and four years old, he has a vital suggestion, they should accept at a more mature age: "Jump in the cold water more often and try out new things, I would advise anyone to do that".
So it's shaping up well that trying out new things is part of his job today. Zant usually has around 20 ideas for new business models on his desk at the same time. "We realize five of them on average." At the moment he is busy with digitalizing popular sports and implementing them on media platforms. "There is enormous potential," he believes, and calculates: "There are more than 27 million active athletes and more than 150.000 active football teams in Germany. The app YouSport is to play a central role here. By means of the app, professional video recordings of amateur sports events can be produced easily and free of charge.
And what about Zant himself? Has he swapped skiing for a console in the meantime? "Definitely not. It's a super exciting business for me. I watch the professionals with excitement. But in order to become really good, I would have needed to start a lot earlier." That's why he'll be back on the slope on the weekends as soon as the first snowflakes fall.