Playing computer games for money in front of millions of fans might sound like every young man’s dream, but thanks to the growth of the eSports industry that dream is now a reality for many. Earlier this year, we explored the growing popularity of gaming and how games like DOTA 2 are now played by professionals for seven-figure prizes.
However, as innovations arise and the industry grows, it’s time to take a more in-depth look at some of the reasons eSports is now a mainstream hit. While some will argue that eSports showdowns aren’t quite “mainstream” just yet, there’s no doubting it is now a much bigger hit than it once was.
Then and Now
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Back in 2013, when Capcom announced the Evolution Fighting Game Championships (EVO), just eight players competed and the initial plan did not involve streaming the event live. Although a live stream was eventually put in place due to public backlash, the initial decision suggests that the organizers didn’t believe it was an integral part of the event.
Fast-forward to 2016, and the EVO Championship Series saw 5,000 players take part in the Street Fight V tournament and live broadcasts on ESPN’s online service WatchESPN as well as ESPN2. Besides, with more interest in the event, players were able to win six-figure prizes as well as bonuses topping $50,000 thanks to sponsors such as Sony.
Beyond this comparative analysis, estimates from Newzoo suggest that there are now 131 million eSports fans around the world which will help make the industry a $1.1 billion enterprise by 2019. Taking this a step further, Red Bull’s eSports division (which also sponsors a number of eSports events) reported that 32 million viewers watched the Season 3 League of Legends World Championship in 2015.
How eSports Has Grown
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Essentially, when it comes to the stats, eSports has become hugely popular over the last decade. However, if we look beyond the viewing figures and industry revenue, the mainstream appeal of games like World of Warcraft, DOTA 2 and League of Legends can be seen in three main areas:
One of the biggest indications that eSports is now accepted as a mainstream activity, moreover a sport, is that people can now bet on it. Just as it’s possible to go online and speculate on the World Cup final or the Grand National, betting sites now give people the chance to wager money on major eSports events.
For example, on BetStars’ eSports betting markets you’ll find a range of bets just as you would find sports like soccer or horse racing. Whether you’re looking to make an in-play bet on the League of Legends qualifying rounds or place a money line bet on the industry’s “rising stars”, the bookmaker allows punters to do this from as little as $0.01. Being able to interact with eSports events may be a reason for the rise in its popularity to some, but what it certainly is, is evidence of this popularity.
Further proof that eSports has evolved from a niche industry to a mainstream hit is the influence of Twitch. The online streaming service was essentially built around the gaming industry and since 2011 it’s become the largest platform of its kind. Today, Twitch receives more than 100 million monthly users who all tune in to see 2.1 million broadcasters play games of all shapes and sizes.
According to the Twitch’s 2015 review, the most watched game on the network was League of Legends which, interestingly, is also one of the most competitive professional eSports games. Essentially, Twitch has done two things for eSports. Firstly, it’s given casual players a chance to watch, learn and interact with pros. Secondly, it has made some players into real stars. This combination of education and aspiration is what’s helped the eSports industry boom.
The third reason eSports has become a hit with the masses is the presence of big-brand sponsors. Whether it’s the events, prize pools or the players themselves, high-profile companies are now clamoring to support the industry. In fact, according to research by Superdata, eSports sponsorship will top $658 million by the close of 2016 which means it will be more lucrative for the industry than prize pools ($79 million) and betting ($59 million).
A review of sponsorship in the industry at the end of 2014 by Fortune showed that brands like Coke, Intel and Nissan are just a few of the companies joining the eSports bandwagon. Thanks to a process of cross-promotion, people who didn’t know about eSports are now learning about it and that’s making it more popular.
The Industry Will Continue to Grow
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The growth of eSports in recent years is clear. Through a combination of online innovations, betting and corporate partnerships, more people can now watch, interact and engage with the industry. While the rise of eSports in the last decade has certainly been impressive, it’s certainly not surprising.
Given our natural inclination for competition and the continued evolution of technology, it seems that virtual sports are a natural fit. This isn’t to say that our love of physical sports like soccer and tennis will wane in the coming years, but there is a chance that we’ll progressively move more towards a virtual form of entertaining.
Indeed, with impressive VR state-of-the-art products such as Oculus Rift starting to hit the mainstream, the combination of eSports and virtual reality could soon open up even more possibilities for players, fans and the industry as a whole. The eSports industry is a certainly a mainstream hit and if its recent rise is anything to go by, then it will become even more of a hit in the coming years.