How do people use social media at live esports events?

(heading image courtesy of Juha Immonen & Assembly)

Esports has been a quickly growing phenomena during the last 3-5 years, attracting an increasing number of viewers, players, teams and businesses interested in getting a slice of the pie. While one would assume that the majority of esports takes place online, as that is after all where the games themselves happen, there has been a growing interest in live events as well. The large leagues & championships of the esports world commonly host their finals as big stadium scale events. Examples include the LoL Worlds, Dota 2 TI and the Overwatch League (OWL) Finals. At the end of July, the Barclays Center in New York hosted the finals of the OWL, with tickets selling out extremely quickly.

While this growth has been going on, so has the parallel growth of social media. Recent years have seen multiple discussions on how we are using social media in society & our daily lives. One interesting topic which has not yet been studied, is how we use social media services while attending live events of various kinds (concerts, art shows, protests, sport events). In order to understand the usage of social media in the context of live events, we set out to investigate the usage of various social media services and how these might affect motivations.

The study

We set out to collect data at the 2016 Assembly Summer event, the largest computer-culture event in Finland, attracting thousands of visitors throughout the weekend. We approached people during the event and collect a total of 255 usable paper surveys (after deleting some incorrect ones). Our survey collected a lot of data, but the most relevant data in the context of this study was the usage of social media services during the event, as well as the motivations for watching esports.
We collected data on following & posting to the following social media services: Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, Twitch, Twitter and messaging services (WhatsApp and similar). For measuring motivations for watching esports, we used the Motivation Scale for Sports Consumption (MSSC), with an added new factor looking at gambling.

To look at what the data tells us, we first ran simple descriptive analysis on the demographic information of the participants, and their social media usage. After this, we got to the more demanding analysis part, as we wanted to look at how various motivational factors influence the use of social media. To do this, we performed a partial least squares (PLS) regression analysis.

The results

The first, and very simple, finding of our study, was that people indeed use a lot of social media services during live events like these. The three most popular services that people reported following during the event were Twitch (37.4% followed), Twitter (35.6%) and Facebook (35.1%). The services that the largest amount of people reported posting to were messaging services (29.9%), Facebook (23.0%), Twitter (21.4%) and Snapchat (20.1%). One interesting observation here was the prevalence of Twitter, as in Finland, historically Twitter has not been as popular as it is in countries such as the US or Indonesia. This perhaps goes to show that the gaming community in Finland has adopted Twitter and used it actively already in 2016.

Within the regression analysis, a number of interesting results were found. One thought provoking finding was that some of the relations between motivations and social media usage were negative, which can indicate that using the social media services might be a detriment to the general event experience. That is to say, using social media services during the event might distract from the event itself, which if you are an event organizer, is likely not what you are looking for.

The results show that esports spectating can indeed be a social experience, something that we could not confirm in our previous studies on online spectating. For example, the data showed that people who were motivated to watch esports by social aspects then followed messaging services more. This was likely to stay connected with peers who are not at the event, as well as potentially being able to effectively communicate with friends who are at the same event, but not in the same physical location, as the event halls can be huge.

We encourage you to check out the full paper to read a more detailed discussion of these.


Through our study, we find that it is tricky to tackle the question of how and why people use social media services at live events. From purely anecdotal observations we know that people love to share content from events they attend, both as a way of documenting their experiences, and also to signal to their friends and acquaintances about things they find important for their own identity. While our study looked at a single esports event, and the method we used is not simply transferrable to other contexts such as concerts, we still believe the underlying theory could easily be replicated in a number of contexts.
Based on our findings, we would urge people who organize large scale events to rethink their strategy for involving attendees in social media campaigns. A lot of event organizers are pushing their event participants to be active on social media and use certain hashtags in a way of generating visibility for the event, and engaging word-of-mouth marketing efforts. However, when thinking holistically about the event experience, we argue that a strategic approach is best, where you think closely about when and how to emphasize social media usage, so as to not detract from the main thing, the actual event you are putting on. After all, people are dedicating both time and money to attend the event, so why not make it the best it can be.

Cite this work

Sjöblom, M., Hassan, L., Macey, J., Törhönen, M., & Hamari, J. (2018). Liking the Game: How Can Spectating Motivations Influence Social Media Usage at Live Esports Events? In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Social Media and Society (pp. 160-167). ACM.

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