Back in 1980, a competitive Space Invaders tournament made history, but nobody realised it at the time. 40 years later, we now look back at this as the first ever eSports event, as 10,000 gamers went head to head to see who could record the highest score.
It was a sign of things to come in the gaming world, with more competitive video gaming tournaments following in its wake. In the 1980’s, the Twin Galaxies organisation was formed to track world records, and by 1997, the creation of the Cyberathlete Professional League showed that people were waking up to the idea of video gamers as sports stars.
In the 2010’s, eSports have become mainstream thanks to advances in video game technology. 115 million people have League of Legends accounts, and many of those tuned in to the 2019 final, with 30 million people watching Twitch streams of gamers on a daily basis.
Alongside this, the cash prizes for eSports tournaments have grown rapidly. In 2019, there was a total of $234,433,656 in prize money across more than 5,000 tournaments, including $30 million in the Fortnite World Cup, and $34 million in the Data 2 International pool.
Because of this, experts are predicting the industry to grow rapidly in the coming years. In 2018, it was valued at $776 million, but current projections put this as rising to $1.3 billion by 2023.
Here’s what to expect in the next couple of years, as eSports continues to grow as a phenomenon.
The next steps for eSports
With the video games industry valued at $134 billion, it’s a surprise that the growth of eSports as an industry has been relatively slow alongside it. But experts are predicting that this will all change in the next few years, leading up to the 2024 Olympic Games, where talks are in place for competitive gaming to feature for the first time.
An audience assessment by NewZoo predicted that in 2021, eSports is likely to generate an estimated total audience of 454 million. By 2023, it is estimated that there will be 351 million casual viewers of eSports – but what is driving this growth?
One of the central reasons eSports awareness has grown is thanks to the rising number of platforms allowing users to stream live gameplay. Of these, Twitch is by far the most popular, with 91.1% of hours spent streaming live eSports coverage taking place on that platform – the equivalent to 205.6 million hours.
But other social media giants are catching up on the act too, with Facebook and YouTube also offering live streaming functions to users. The Covid lockdown led to a big increase in people watching streams – but this seems to merely be accelerating growth that was already taking place.
In the third quarter of 2020, audiences spent approximately 7.46 billion hours watching live streamed content across all these platforms. Of these, more than 33 million hours were spent watching the Korean League of Legends Championship, and 28 million on the European League of Legends Championship, showing this game continues to be the most popular around.
Although there was a slight decrease in year on year revenue in 2020 due to Covid stopping fans attending live tournaments, these figures show why brands and advertisers are throwing money at the industry. Now, sponsorship approximately comprises $584.1 million of revenue, media rights $163.3 million, publisher fees $108.9 million, merchandise and tickets $52.5 million, digital $21.5 million and streaming $19.9 million.
Many of these sectors have experienced decrease revenues due to events of the past year, but the striking rise in viewing figures shows that this will only be temporary. The audience is growing, and with it, the chance for advertisers and media brands to climb on board.
How fans are getting more involved with eSports
Another area where fans are getting more involved is through sports betting, as many sportsbooks now offer the chance to bet on major tournaments. With the likes of League of Legends and Dota 2 proving incredibly popular among fans, it’s no surprise more people are placing bets on their favourite teams and players to win.
There are several popular sites now offering the chance to bet on the biggest eSports tournaments – find out more here. But it’s not just betting helping fans become more active participants in the sport.
A growing number of people have started streaming on Twitch in the past 18 months, and many other young people are going even further. Several schools and colleges in the UK and US now offer eSports classes, to train young people’s gaming skills and get them ready to participate in major events.
It’s clear that eSports is in the midst of a rapid growth, and that it’s not going away anytime soon. It’s already a cultural phenomenon but expect the industry to fully dominate the sports landscape in the next decade.