It’s easy to forget when consuming media on the internet that you make up a fraction of a large audience sharing the same experience worldwide. In the days of ancient Greek theater, Shakespeare, 90’s cinema (before Netflix), an individual would experience live interaction with a tangible, present audience. Now we tend to watch, read, and listen to media from the privacy of our living room or bedroom, because digital media is all directly broadcasting to our multimedia smart devices. However, this shift in consumer behaviour has not created a passive audience; social media continues to facilitate discussion and reactionary creation among media consumers with shared experiences at a larger scale than previously possible.
I first noticed how ever-present these ‘invisible’ media audiences really are when attending an event called ‘EB Games Expo’ in Sydney a few years ago. Tickets were sold in day and night sessions, and were very expensive. I’d only saved up enough for one session, so I had to use my time wisely. Despite this, my heart kept drawing my attention away from the console demo floor and new video games, and instead led me to an afternoon viewing party of the League of Legends world finals. I’d only recently discovered eSports and professional gaming, and to hear that this event was being live streamed to the venue was too exciting for me to pass.
There were rows of eSports fans seated before a big screen, cheering and clapping at each big moment, collectively sharing their joy or disdain. I thought to myself, ‘so this must be how my dad feels when he watches a rugby game!’, I finally understood his enthusiasm. My experience validated eSports as a real spectator game, and I came to realise its niche potential. It had become viable, and continues to grow rapidly as a contemporary industry today. At this event in 2012, I made up one of 32 million viewers worldwide; last year when watching the finals for the same game online, I was one of 60 million. Almost double in just 5 years. Picturing this number of people filling a stadium really puts into perspective how present and thriving consumers of digital media are, even though they aren’t watching, reading, or listening side by side in the real world.
The event ran overtime, but the hype was too real! So, those of us with a half-day pass were allowed to stay past 4pm by the convention staff to watch the rest of the game. Needless to say I went home with no regrets about how I’d used my Expo ticket.