Even as recently as just a few years ago, the sports scene was rife with those willing to scoff at the legitimacy of the new phenomena that is eSports. With a new generation of fans coming through though, utilising all that technology has to offer, eSports has staked its claim and is now a recognised branch of the sporting world.
Since the turn of the millennium, the eSports genre has built upon various key online multiplayer games like League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, StarCraft, and Overwatch to garner an ever-increasing fan base. Thanks to eSports effectively developing with the times, and new games presenting new and exciting experiences for players and viewers alike, the industry hit a whopping $696 million in total revenue in 2017 – more than double that accumulated in 2015.
eSports is gaining pace both regarding its fan base and its earnings, with the industry anticipated to pull in a total revenue of $1.488 billion in 2020, with $1.22 billion coming from brand investment revenues such as media rights, sponsorship, and advertising. It might not be long before it can challenge the other big sports industries, particularly in the United States of America.
Adapting to advancements in technology has been key for eSports, and the way in which it appeals and caters to a global fan base will lead to even more growth.
A global fan base
When it comes to many of the most popular sports, with the exception of the world’s most popular sport (football), the USA hosts the biggest and richest leagues on the planet, establishing themselves as leaders in the world and drawing in the best players. However, when it comes to fan bases, these top divisions of sports often hold a very North American fan base. Despite the yearly championship trophies each being called “The World Cup” in America – bar the NHL’s Stanley Cup, but including the MLS Cup – the leagues, or even the sports, somewhat lack strong global viewership.
eSports is different, however, with events staged all over the world and streaming available to all nations. 37% of the revenue may come from North America, which is to be expected, but China (15%), South Korea (7%), and the rest of the world (41%) account for a huge 63%, showing the industry’s global appeal.
As you would expect, eSports still trails America’s major leagues by some way, with the lowest generator of revenue (NHL) making $4.1 billion in total revenue in their 2015/16 season, and the biggest (NFL) amassing $12.6 billion in their 2015 season.
A major part of all sports that doesn’t – or rather shouldn’t – actually impact the game directly is the gambling side, which many fans enjoy as a part of their sports fandom. However, it’s definitely an indication of eSports’ popularity as well as a new way for brands to engage with eSports. As a sign of eSports being legitimised, bookies now host a betting section for the major eSports tournaments. Much of the betting is the same as it is with other sports, but beginners guides to eSports such as the one on Master Mazuma will help many take their experience within this new sport to the next level. Thus, the industry will grow even further, potentially catching up to some of the major sports leagues of America.
With the mobile sector gradually eating its way toward accounting for half of the gaming market, one has to assume that an industry such as eSports would expand into the area.
Now, eSports fans have claimed that mobile games can’t be taken seriously enough to be considered as eSports – much in the same way as many traditional sports fans scoffed at eSports – but there’s certainly a base for expansion. Games like Hearthstone and Vainglory garner plenty of interest and gamers, but currently lack the interest shown in legitimised esports.
eSports is growing in popularity and revenue at an incredible rate, and it will continue to do so as more and more fans are finding the experience of supporting the sport an enjoyable venture, thus making it more profitable and therefore more legitimate.