For more than a decade, eSports operated in the niche. Over the past couple of years however, the eSports industry has been picking up steam. In 2015, worldwide revenues generated in the eSports market amounted to $325 million. In 2017, financial institutions like Goldman Sachs valued eSports at $500 million, predicting that the market would grow into a $1.5 billion opportunity by 2022.
Formalized eSports leagues and tournaments like Battle.net World Championship Series (BWCS), Dreamhack or the League of Legends World Championships turned gaming into a competitive sport. With more and more competitions of various scales emerging across the globe, even the skeptics realized that gaming is no longer only about play or fun. It’s also about developing and training mental or physical abilities in the use of information and communication technologies. Just as it is about being part of a community and sharing your passion with people like you.
What was merely a form of isolated entertainment has become one of the fastest-growing industries. Here are five proofs for it.
#1 The eSports audience is escalating
Esports have attracted massive followings, with millions of viewers for online games like Riot Games’ League of Legends or Blizzard’s Starcraft II and WoW. Just to paint a picture, last year more than 360 million unique viewers watched League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational. To better understand the scale of this, you should know that the Super Bowl was watched by only 111.3 million people, whereas the NBA finals had a 30 million audience.
Not all forms of eSports necessarily gather such large audiences, but each game has its own follower base. With the help of online streaming mediums like Twitch and YouTube Gaming, eSports have built an audience fan base that has been rising over the years.
Here’s how the worldwide eSports audience grew by the millions since 2012, according to Statista.
#2 The perception of eSports is changing
For years, people debated on whether professional gaming counts as a real sport or not. In 2017, League of Legends developer Riot Games released a video designed to challenge those who believe that eSports are a joke, by showing the gap between what the media is saying and the actual reality.
The good news is that the general perception of eSports is starting to change. “Perception is everything,” says Alex Lim, secretary-general of the International e-Sports Federation, in an interview for Financial Times. “One generation grew up kicking a ball in the back yard, the next grew up with choices that included games. We live in a digital culture that most people accept is redefining a whole range of things: sport is one of them.”
This year, for the first time in the history of Asian Games, eSports will be featured as a demonstration sport. In 2022, eSports are set to be featured as a medal sport. Hopefully, the genre will be recognized as an Olympic event by 2024.
While media giants like ESPN and Turner broadcast eSports tournaments and competitions, more and more universities are starting to sponsor competitive gamers with scholarships and facilities. The University of Utah is the first major sports school to offer scholarship for competitive gaming. In September 2018, Staffordshire University will be the first university in the UK to launch their degree for eSports. This degree will enable students to learn about hosting and promoting gaming events, or to explore the gaming culture and fan bases.
#3 Emerging tech is taking eSports to the next level
Enhancements to technology translate into more players and spectators. So it’s only natural for the eSports industry to rely on emerging technologies to revolutionize the gaming and the tournament experience.
The younger, tech savvy audience of eSports is already embracing blockchain-powered platforms, which streamline the eSports recruitment and management process. At the same time, they are equally eager to experiment with virtual reality (VR). For example, Intel and ESL partnered with SLIVER.tv, an eSports-focused VR provider, to broadcast the IEM World Championship in an immersive 360-degree environment. The broadcasts attracted 340,000 peak concurrent viewers, which is a huge number for live VR content.
A startup called AI Gaming wants to use the world of gaming to develop smarter AI-based bots. Unlike humans playing against computers, this company promotes humans creating bots to challenge each other in games and identify the most technologically advanced bot. The purpose is to encourage people to create smarter bots through game play and to incentivize human creators with cryptocurrency rewards.
#4 Esports are opening new territories for brands
The eSports industry has 215 million fans and growing. It’s only natural for companies and media to look into ways they can use eSports in order to connect with a highly desirable millennial fan base. This leads to sponsorships for players and competitions, but also to giveaways, which are creating massive global visibility for brands.
Earlier this year, at the Esports Bar – a conference dedicated to the business side of this booming industry, Facebook discussed eSports partnerships, Renault and Coca-Cola tackled sponsorships, whereas a German soccer league announced its eSports strategy.
On the other hand, for brands, Twitch provides an unprecedented opportunity: access to a generation that does not embrace traditional advertising media, yet is hooked on video games. With viewership numbers that rival those of CNN, Twitch works like a kaleidoscopic television network, with thousands of channels broadcasting live 24/7.
For this surging industry, the brands’ increasing interest comes as a confirmation that eSports are about to shift from niche curiosity to mainstream acceptance.
#5 Esports are creating career opportunities
While some might think that video games are just child’s play, the eSports phenomenon proves that gaming is a real career opportunity. Talented players can earn millions and sign lucrative sponsorship deals. For instance, McLaren’s search for the world’s fastest online gamer among 300,000 contestants got 25-year-old Rudy van Buren hired as one of the team’s official simulator drivers for 2018.
As with many professions, focus is often reserved for those at the top of the esports pyramid – the players. Nonetheless, the eSports workforce includes other professions as well. Streamers and broadcasters, coaches, journalists and content creators, are also cashing in on people’s growing interest in professional gaming.
Want to find out more on eSports?
Join The Future of Esports LIVESTREAM! On July 11, starting 7pm, three inspiring global eSports ambassadors will shed light on what the future holds for eSports companies, players and communities.
- Roderick Alemania, CEO of eSports platform ReadyUp, former VP of Business Development at IGN;
- Johnathan Fatal1ty Wendel, first full-time professional eSports player & 12 times FPS World Champion;
- Carter Lipscomb, video games industry investor & advisor, former Director of Publisher Relations at Sony (PlayStation).
- The challenges of emerging eSports platforms;
- New levels of engagement and monetization for players;
- The evolution and dynamics of eSports;
- Emerging technologies that enhance the gaming experience and increase the player rewards;
- Innovative ways to support eSports communities worldwide and locally.