While esports used to be a niche activity, it’s undoubtedly big business. As esports have surged in popularity to become a spectator sport, it’s captured the attention of real-life sports clubs and sponsors – who are rushing to sign up the latest talent.
Their thinking is simple. By reaching out to a generation that sees virtual games as just as entertaining as the real thing, they will soon be building up a whole new cohort of fans drawn from a demographic that the traditional game of football just can’t reach.
And that’s just football. Esports encompasses many different sports – tapping into millions of sporting enthusiasts worldwide. Let’s take a look at how esports have developed and where it’s headed today.
A Brief History Of Esports
It may seem like esports have only been around for the past couple of years, but in reality, the phenomenon began much longer ago. It’s widely considered that the very first esports event took place way back in 1972, nearly half a century ago. 24 would-be gamers gathered at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to compete in ‘Spacewar’ for the grand prize of… a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.
Eight years later, 10,000 players gathered to take part in an Atari-sponsored Space Invaders championship. It wasn’t until 1997 that the first signs appeared of the big money phenomenon esports would become. In the Red Annihilation tournament, the first prize was a Ferrari. This proved to be something of a tipping point which saw a number of leagues start to emerge.
At the turn of the 21st century, the Electronic Sports World Cup and the World Cyber Games were launched as esports went global. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen a gradual rise in player numbers, viewing figures and prize money.
In 2015 esports was even named as a Second Degree Olympic Sport alongside other more established ones including chess, polo, and car racing. While it’s still awaiting call-up as a fully fledged Olympic sport there were many events acting as satellites around the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The fact that South Korea is the undisputed global epicenter of esports was definitely a deciding factor in some of these events even being televised on the country’s official Olympics channel.
Esports Today: A Billion-Dollar Industry
According to the esports data experts Newzoo, the annual revenue has risen from $130 million in 2012 to $465 million this year. This year’s global audience is also predicted to be around 385 million people, almost half of whom are dedicated fans with another 195 million occasional viewers. It’s predicted to be worth almost $1.5 billion a year by 2020.
While esports players’ earnings are still a long way short of other professional sports people the best ones do manage to pull in millions of dollars a year in prize money and sponsorship deals.
Esports reached some incredible milestones in a record-breaking 2017. Over 170,000 people were in the audience when the first ever Intel Extreme Masters tournament was held in Katowice. And 46 million people watched online – 35% more than the previous year – making it the biggest live event in esports history. The League of Legends World Championship achieved online viewing figures of 60 million, an increase of 17 million on the 2016 total.
The events and tournaments keep on coming as organizers cash in on something that’s gone from an exciting trend to a market in its own right.
Besides the long-established fanbase of players, the key driver of esports success has mostly been technology. Here’s specifically where the credit’s due:
- Super-fast wireless broadband. Increasing access to fast wireless connections to the internet, which allow live and uninterrupted streaming through sites like Twitch.
- Game development. Greater competition has led to further innovation as they battle to stay ahead of the curve and exceed gamers’ expectations.
- High-profile players. The emergence of superstar teams and players has built up an army of loyal followers who are keen to see them succeed, and maybe hope to pick up some gaming tips along the way. A typical example is the South Korean who plays under the name Faker and who even has a Twitch channel dedicated to him.
Virtual Meets Reality In The Gambling World
Esports are shaking up the norm for sports players, fans and organizations by offering the same model of sport in an alternate reality. It’s giving competition to sports played in the physical world – and the same thing is happening in gambling. There are parallels to the pressure that esports are putting on traditional ones in many other tech-driven industries and a prime example would be in the world of online casinos and gaming businesses. More and more, these are starting to take custom from their bricks and mortar rivals by offering 24/7 access to gaming which is quicker and more immediate than attending a real casino.
By offering gamblers the chance to play their favorite games from the comfort of their own home, millions of players are no longer visiting bricks-and-mortar casinos – instead choosing to gamble wherever and whenever they like using their smart devices.
Technology has played its part here too – from the engaging slot games that are designed to appeal to all kinds of different niches, to the fully immersive live casino where you can interact with real-life croupiers and competitors at the other end of a video feed.
It’s affected a huge change in the industry. Online gambling now accounts for one-third of all gambling revenue in the UK and is now the largest individual gambling sector.
It’s also hardly surprising that the world of esports has been identified as an exciting new area to explore for online gaming companies, a few of which already run very successful sportsbooks.
Among the leaders hoping to get involved in this innovative foray is Mr. Green online casino. The company used its Capital Markets Day in May of this year to announce an ambitious esports initiative – an exciting joint venture with Gamingzone International. Mr. Green has made their name as a successful online casino; however, they are broadening their offering and are now one of the few online gaming operators that provide customers with the chance to bet on esports so it promises to be a very interesting proposition.
Where Next For Esports?
The future of esports looks like it could be very exciting indeed. With more professional teams buying into it, more prize money at stake, and growing audiences worldwide, it’s likely that esports could follow the successful trajectory of football.
While the top esports players may not quite be on the wages of footballers like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s probably only a matter of time until they will be. Equally, the broadcasting rights of major esports tournaments can also be expected to go through the roof, too.
And as esports superstars are taken more seriously, people like this guy who put his Football Manager achievements on his CV and sent it to clubs might not become such a laughing stock.