Playing against and watching others battle in online gaming tournaments has attracted a lot of attention in recent months. Investors, such as music producer Steve Aoki, are dubbing this new consumer interest in electronic sports, aka eSports, the new gold rush. This seemingly niche space is rapidly growing, gaining huge cultural recognition, and experiencing an explosion in financing from numerous investors, including celebrities, and even football clubs.
Through popular platforms such as Amazon-owned Twitch and YouTube, viewers can engage with their favorite professional eSports players and teams, who are routinely participating in best-of-the-best eSports championships, such as ECS. Top eSports titles include online first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and online multi-player arena titles League of Legends and Dota 2.
According to Newzoo’s 2017 Global eSports Market Report, eSports revenues will reach $696 million by the end of 2017 and grow to $1.5 billion by 2020. A large audience share is one of several reasons for this sudden growth; the report highlights that the global eSports audience will reach 385 million in 2017, made up of 191 million ESports enthusiasts and a further 194 million occasional viewers. Newzoo predicts the number of eSports enthusiasts will grow by another 50 percent towards 2020, totaling 286 million.
More interesting, a study by LEK Consulting found that when American millennials were asked their preference between their favorite eSport against their favorite traditional sport, the split was 40 percent versus 42 percent respectively (18 percent undecided). By comparison, slightly more than one-quarter non-Millennials follow eSports, while the majority (56 percent) maintained a preference for traditional sporting events.
These findings are further supported by the Ericsson ConsumerLab TV and Media Report, which not only shows that millennials have the highest interest in live and on-demand eSports, but also concludes that this generation spends four hours less watching live and linear broadcast content in comparison to the previous generation.
As eSports continues to become part of the mainstream consumer landscape, opportunities for businesses to drive revenue will increase, considering the lucrative appeal of its main millennial demographic. If this prophesized growth pattern endures, and superstars emerge, eSports could soon be integrated with a whole host of technology, TV, and media platforms.
These platforms will no doubt be popular if the viewing figures across the world are anything to go by. In France, for example, audience research firm Mediametrie discovered that almost half of the country’s general public has awareness of eSports, with 9.1 percent of all internet users having viewed an official tournament. The 2016 Nielsen eSports Report also revealed that viewership of eSports contests amongst people aged 13 and over in the USA grew by 14 percent in 2016, showing a strong global appetite for this new medium.
To entice and maintain solid levels of millennial viewers, the preferences of eSports fans should be considered during content development and interface design. By adding the capability to quickly locate eSports content, and/or pursue a strategy that includes creating TV content revolving around eSports, companies could halt this decline in millennial viewers. Some are already facing this challenge head on, such as cable giant Comcast Xfinity, who recently signed a sponsorship agreement with popular eSports groups ESL and Evil Geniuses (EG).
The experts behind the Activate Tech & Media Outlook for 2017 also expect the amount of eSports fans will surpass those of professional athletics, like basketball, by 2020. They even predict that more people will tune in to watch an eSports final, in comparison to the more mainstream MLB, NHL, and NBA finals.
There is also a strong media appetite for eSports coverage. In an interview with TIME Magazine last year, ESPN editor-in-chief Chad Millman said: “At the end of the day, it’s cool, it’s intense, the competition is crazy, it has million-dollar performers, it has high stakes, it has owners who are trying to steal team members from different teams” and “it has everything that makes sports interesting to cover.”
This media appetite is further reflected by the networks working to bring this relatively new format of sports viewing into the mainstream. For example, in July 2016, the ESPN2 and ESPNU networks aired an 18-hour block of eSports-related programming. Around the same time, the first 24-hour eSports channel, Ginx eSports TV, launched on Sky in the UK. And earlier this year, Canadian broadcaster Super Channel and Ginx eSports TV signed an exclusive deal to create and distribute their own 24/7 eSports channel to viewers in Canada.
Numerous celebrities are also investing large sums into these intense competitions, as well as funding teams. Billionaire “Shark Tank” star, and Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban invested $7million in the eSports viewing platform Unikrn, as long ago as 2015, taking financial advantage of the growing phenomenon. Last year, Shaquille O’Neal become co-owner of NRG eSports, an organization that supports multiple eSports teams, looking to invest early on this new financial goldmine.
Hollywood are joining the party too, with comedy star Will Ferrell set to star in his very own comedy about eSports, bringing the niche hobby even more into the mainstream. But it doesn’t stop there; the gambling world has discovered eSports too, with betting on eSports approved in Las Vegas last November. By 2020, eSports wagering is expected to reach $29.8 billion, with 15.4 million bettors participating, according to Chris Grove of Narus Advisors.
It’s clear that many industries, executives and big names are gravitating towards this new concept, which only proves the intense momentum for the much-desired millennial market.
For those who are still wondering why anyone would want to watch others play video games, it’s best explained by David Levy, President of Turner Sports’ ELEAGUE. He describes how he questioned his son’s passion for Counter-Strike. Similar to David’s love of watching professional hockey, his son simply explained that, that is exactly the same reason why he likes watching eSports.
Competitive gaming is set to increase in popularity as time goes on, and will continue penetrating the mainstream consumer landscape, particularly among the lucrative millennial audience. Now is the time for broadcasters and content owners to embrace this new streaming phenomenon, if they are to capitalize on it and remain on trend.
Daniel Ruhmann, Head of Content Discovery