During the last quarter, Esports – a once niche sector – have increased in popularity, drawing in new viewers in their thousands. In the first three months of 2020, popular Esports streaming site Twitch reported all-time high viewing hours of streamed content. Twitter noted a 71% increase in tweets around Esports and 38% more Esports content during the same period.
The Evolution of Esports
The first Esports tournament took place in October 1972 at Stamford University. A number of students competed against each on ‘Spacewar’ in the hopes of winning a year subscription to Rolling Stone. The first live competition was held eight years later with a turnout of some 10,000 ‘Space Invaders’ fans. In the mid-’90s, the use of the internet was more widespread and it was able to connect gamers via the web. This made competitive gaming from a distance possible. At this time, big-name game companies like Nintendo started sponsoring Esports tournaments, propelling its popularity even further.
By 2017, Esports tournaments commanded huge payouts for winners- a total of a combined $110.6 million that year alone. Professional gamers could hope to win as much as $24 million in one single championship. During 2018, these big figures started to draw the attention of those not so familiar with the Esports world.
Today, the most popular Esports games are League of Legends, Call of Duty, Counter Strike-Global Offensive, and Overwatch. Soccer game FIFA 20 is also growing in popularity as conventional sports fans are discovering it is yet another way to enjoy the game. Viewing figures continue to increase and revenue could hit a whopping $1.5 billion by the end of this year.
Esports Betting on the Rise
Esports tournaments take the form of organized competition where professional players battle it out in teams, or as individuals. They can take place in a stadium with the game being shown on large screens, or online where millions tune in to follow the action.
But it’s not just the tournaments themselves that are getting a lot of extra attention. The placing of bets on the outcome of Esports events is gaining traction. As Esports gets more popular, more punters are visiting eSports betting sites in 2020 to wager on tournaments. Furthermore, many well-established online betting sites have either started to offer bets on or increased the ones they already offer on Esports matches.
In recent years, some online betting sites had started offering bets on Esports tournaments, noting the potential in the market. Many of these sites are now noticing a surge and some have reported a 35% increase in Esports bets. Others say contests are 20 times more popular than they were at the beginning of the year.
Challenges and the Way Forward
But this influx in viewers isn’t without its challenges. Remote tournaments are popular, too. This is due to lower costs, more availability, and ease of participation for players. It does, however, heighten the risk of cheating, collusion, and other abuses. In-person tournaments usually have ‘referees’ who supervise and conduct checks, but this isn’t happening as online
But match organizers are moving swiftly to find adequate workarounds. The potential of the Esports market and ancillary markets such as betting, sponsorship, and even merchandise has been realized. As such, ensuring transparency, credibility, and viewer retention is key.
It seems that Esports is well on its way to becoming more mainstream. Conventional sports fans that a few months ago that had no idea what Esports was are now tuning in and placing bets on big tournaments. Viewing figures of 335 million in 2017, are expected to surpass 557 million by the end of 2021.
For gamers, streamers, and online betting companies, the statistics speak for themselves. It seems like the time for mainstream engagement with Sports has well and truly arrived.