A decade ago few would have imagined that watching other people play computer games would become a billion dollar business, but this year the global market for esports (electronic sports) will surpass that figure for the first time. And it is market that is growing rapidly, with year-on-year growth of more than 25 per cent.
Last year, nearly as many people watched the “League Worlds” final (99m) as the Superbowl (103m), and if growth continues at its current rate, esports will soon become the most watch “sport” in the world. Globally, the esports audience has grown to more than 450m people, with around half of these considered engaged “enthusiasts” and the other half more casual viewers – but all these fans can be monetised, and companies around the world have been quick to turn the activity into a money-making machine.
Sponsorship makes up the largest part of esport revenue streams, generating nearly half a billion dollars last year, but media rights is a rapidly growing area, with advertising and tickets and merchandising making up most of the rest of that $1.1bn total. As large traditional media companies start to compete for streaming and broadcast rights for future tournaments, we could be seeing esports tournaments compete with the Superbowl for the most expensive 30-second ad slots on TV.
Some of the more-digitally minded sports teams are already starting to wake up to the revenue and branding potential of esports, with Dutch football club Ajax already selling Ajax-branded gaming chairs for those that want to play as the team on Fifa, and the club’s shirt sponsor Ziggo also deciding to sponsor the shirts of the players within the game to keep their branding unified across the digital and offline realms.
We are still waiting for the first break-out esports star that manages to cross into the mainstream world of celebrity, but with the already staggering viewer numbers and increasingly impressive prize money on offer, some of these gaming stars will soon make the jump and could bring the entire industry into mainstream consciousness with them. YouTube stars can already bring city centres to a standstill, and it is likely esports stars will not be far behind.
Analysts expect current growth trends to continue, the market to growth to be worth $2bn over the next five years, with even greater gains possible if a new game is released that can generate the sort of following enjoyed by popular gaming titles Dota 2, CS:Go, Call of Duty, and League of Legends.
eSports – an Infographic by hotukdeals
Photograph by Jakob Wells