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The astonishing growth of Esports in 2020

Esports has become an inescapable part of the entertainment industry’s fabric in 2020

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Image: Red Bull

For those in the know, the sudden growth spurt of esports was no surprise in this crazy year of 2020. 

Already enjoying a healthy expansion for the last five years and grassroots that go back over twenty years, the world of competitive video games was already brushing up to the mainstream world with publications like ESPN devoting column inches to these affairs. 

However, as the COVID-19 pandemic kneecapped traditional sports and consequently the related broadcasts, esports filled the void, showing a much wider audience that there is a real appeal to this, with the business numbers to match.

How Fast Is The Esports Industry Growing

The interest in competitive gaming is as old as gaming itself, and it can be traced back to the seventies. It’s only logical that the growth of the general video games industry has also brought along a new golden age of esports, with easier access to the requisite technology and a whole new generation of digital natives coming along to flood the zone, fostering an environment where playing video games for a living as a professional is now a viable career.

There is a  rapidly growing segment of the entertainment industry as a whole, with blue-chip companies and venture capital investors flocking to sponsor some of the scene’s biggest events, explaining why esports is growing so fast.

The pandemic further accelerated this process as sports broadcasters scrambled to find replacement content while the “offline world” was shutting down, with the BBC among others airing League of Legends content and the Rocket League European Series, not to mention the presence of CS:GO’s BLAST Premier events on the iPlayer. 

This meant that esports’ growth in 2020 was far beyond the experts’ projections, even if the global situation undoubtedly impacted this space as well. However, the ability to (mostly) seamlessly transition to online competitions served the industry well and highlighted its resiliency, not to mention the continued audience interest, which already doubled between 2015 and 2019

Though it’s tough to quantify how much is the esports industry growth in 2020 due to the pandemic, the numbers don’t lie: a year-on-year growth of 11.7% this year and a corresponding 15.7% increase in global revenues in the middle of an economic crisis was a real eye-opener for many and a good reason why investing in esports has become an even more popular proposition than before.

We’re certainly not there yet – it turns out an advantage of multiple millennia and deeply entrenched media reach can’t be overhauled in just a few decades – but both the growth of esports and the realization of crossover appeal has kept fueling these comparisons. More than 100 million people watched the 2019 League of Legends World Championship, drawing headlines worldwide. 

However, these comparisons are not always reliable for many reasons: lumping “esports” into one group is the same as putting all “sports” into the same bracket. Most traditional sports viewing opportunities are also better monetized than their esports equivalents – just ask the four billion soccer fans worldwide.

Though YouTube has put many resources into their gaming live stream platform, most organic audiences can be found on Twitch, the behemoth purchased by Amazon for $970 million in 2014. 

Even then, the site accounted for 40% of all live-streamed content, more than Hulu at the time – then again, of course, not all of this relates to esports. Some of the biggest competitive video games are League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch – but many other games have found their space in this rapidly growing niche, like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Rocket League, and Rainbow Six: Siege.

Investing in Esports

Considering how esports’ primary audience demographic is males aged between 16 and 35 (with a higher likelihood of maintaining full-time employment and having high household incomes compared to the overall online population), and a highly engaged one at that, it makes sense why advertisers are quite interested in the space. 

You don’t have to set out to explain to these people why esports is a good thing. This is the main thrust of economic growth in the space and what fuels many of the different competitive and franchising models across the most popular games. Just like many other sports-ancillary industries, the betting world’s most prominent players have also flocked to the world of esports over the last two years. 

Nowadays, you can bet on esports on many trusted and reliable online sportsbooks like this one, with space’s biggest international names like bet365 or Pinnacle offering a wide range of esports gambling options with corresponding bonus codes. This is another segment where technology growth enables these esports betting sites to offer further options for deposits and more targeted bonus codes, providing a better user experience.

Such actors from the traditional sports space will further legitimize esports in the worldwide audience’s eyes. Indeed, teams and players like Barcelona and Dele Alli have lent their clout to such projects, being just a few of the number of growing examples. 

Meanwhile, businessmen like Robert Kraft forked out for one of the spots in Activision-Blizzard’s franchised Overwatch League alongside other high-profile investors like Neil Leibman, the co-owner of the Texas Rangers. 

Overall, the worldwide esports market revenue is expected to increase by 70% over the next three years, no doubt still mostly fueled by the fandoms behind legacy teams and players. Organizations like Cloud9 or G2 and players like Rekkles and Puppey are household names for esports fans and elicit the same sort of enthusiastic support and tribal instincts as traditional sports fandoms do.

The Future of Esports

There’s a lot more to come, too. The rapid growth of technology will continue to remove any remaining barriers to entry for fans, players, and investors alike while further expanding the potential of esports broadcasts and related content. 

With the video game industry at the forefront of many of today’s most impactful technological changes, it’s safe to say that the esports scene will be much faster to adapt to this kind of growth than traditional media and regular sports events.

From the financial side of things, the clearest sign that esports is still in its infancy despite the rapid growth is the fact that most games’ competitive scenes are entirely developer-controlled. This brings along very different incentives from what you would typically expect from a franchised league or a regular operator. 

That said, some of the biggest projects in the scene (like the Overwatch League or the big League of Legends competitions) have already gone down this path, and other titles like Valve’s CS:GO, and Dota 2 have a burgeoning scene of third-party tournament organizers that can coexist with a less hands-on developer.

Dota 2’s The International remains the most prominent esports event globally in terms of prestige and prize pool, thanks to amazing crowdfunding from the community. TI10, which was delayed to 2021 due to the pandemic situation, has crossed the $40 million mark, to be distributed among the twelve best Dota 2 teams globally. It’s a significant enough number to make a spectacle worthy of mainstream attention.

Though it’s clear there is a lot of additional potential for external tournament organizers with different incentives, it’s worth pointing out that a developer in close control of their game’s esports scene is necessarily a problem by itself.

Riot Games’ League of Legends circuit finally broke records with its North American LCS league as it’s now projected to make a profit as its own in 2021. Not bad for what most devs and publishers still see as an extension of their marketing arm!

Demographic changes are also on the side of esports. With a growing army of digital natives getting ready to enter the workforce, having already become attached to their favorite players and personalities in the space when they were young – much akin to fandoms in traditional sports – it’s safe to say many of the lingering monetization concerns will be answered in the next few years. 

Neither pay-per-view nor subscription-based models have been successfully explored yet in the space, making it even more incredible how fast esports is growing at this time.

Conclusion

Esports has become an inescapable part of the entertainment industry’s fabric in 2020, gaining legitimacy and popularity at an unprecedented pace in an otherwise traumatic year. 

With video games representing an ever-growing part of the pie in terms of revenue and collective interest, their respective competitive scenes will continue to rise, too. 

This, coupled with the up-and-coming generation of digital natives, will further fuel interest in esports, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of growth for fans and professionals alike, with ancillary fields like esports betting sites and PR agencies offering better and better products related to the scene.

All this points to a bright future for the esports industry. As the gap between esports and traditional sports continue to shrink and more synergistic approaches like Fortnite’s in-game concerts continue to crop up, there is no time like the present to get into the action.

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