Will Netflix’s expansion into gaming help boost esports?

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The recent announcement that TV and movie streaming giant Netflix is to offer video games as part of its subscription package has sent shockwaves through the entertainment and gaming industries.

Although the company has yet to reveal full details of the original games it hopes to produce, or confirm a timescale, the rollout looks to be Netflix’s most significant expansion since it first started to present its own programming in 2012. Netflix began streaming television programming and films on demand in 2007 and currently has around 200 million global subscribers.

For a television platform considering a move into gaming, esports are a natural stepping stone, as they combine video games with televised spectator sport. Much like football, basketball, and baseball, spectators also have the chance to win money if they can predict who will come out on top – and Best Odds have some of the best betting odds for sports should you fancy your chances. Unlike rivals such as Sky, Disney, Warner, and Amazon, Netflix does not currently offer any sports programming or have access to live sports events. This means that Netflix loses out on the huge sports betting market.

League of Legends

Will Netflix’s move into gaming include esports coverage? The company already has a deal with League of Legends developer Riot Games and has produced or commissioned original television content based on the online multiplayer battle arena game. This has included the 2018 documentary series 7 Days Out, which followed four teams through the North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS), as they competed to reach the finals in Miami.

In 2019, Netflix screened the exclusive documentary League of Legends Origins, and the animated event series Arcane, produced by Riot Games, is due to premiere in fall 2021. This is set in the League of Legends universe and tells the origin stories of several well-loved characters. Netflix adapted another esports video game into an animated series in 2021 with DOTA: Dragon’s Blood, based on Valve’s massive online battle arena game DOTA 2.

There are other Netflix properties that cross over into the video game world. The hugely popular fantasy show The Witcher is also a highly successful trilogy of games, though both are based on the novel series of the same name rather than each other, and Netflix has no connection with the gaming franchise. Several Netflix shows have been adapted into games, most notably Stranger Things, but again, these have not been done in-house. 

Mike Verdu

Netflix has hired Mike Verdu as Vice President of Game Development, reporting to its Chief Operating Officer Greg Peters. Verdu was previously Facebook’s Vice President of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Content. This entailed him working with developers to adapt games and other content for the Oculus VR headsets. Before this, he worked at Electronic Arts, dealing with mobile gaming franchises including The Sims, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and Plants Vs. Zombies, and was Chief Creative Officer at Zynga from 2009 to 2012. His background also takes time working at gaming companies Kabam and Atari.

Netflix apparently intends to first offer ad-free mobile games first. These will be available as part of its existing subscription service at no extra cost, hopefully within the next year. Games will be included within the Netflix library as a new programming genre and may be used to justify subscription price increases in the future. The games will not be available for streaming or download as a separate product.

New initiatives

The expansion into gaming is the most dramatic step so far in a series of initiatives designed to keep Netflix ahead of rivals such as Disney+. The company gained 5.5 million subscribers in the first half of 2021, its worst first-half performance since 2013. Subscriptions were boosted by the pandemic but have fallen as people start to go outside again. Netflix’s share prices also tumbled recently.

Other new ventures have included an online shop to sell merchandise, expanded children’s programming, and an approach to film producer Steven Spielberg to create exclusive content. Netflix already has many original properties suitable for adaptation into games, and although offering games as part of the existing subscription package may not boost profits directly, it will be a highly effective branding and marketing exercise.

Whether dedicated esports programming will be included in this expansion remains to be seen. Given Netflix’s relationship with Riot Games, it would seem a logical move, but perhaps the company will test the water with regular video games adaptations first. By offering TV viewers video games as part of a subscription bundle, they will raise awareness of gaming among non-players, for whom watching esports may be more appealing than attempting the games themselves. As ever, time will tell.

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