The Meteoric Rise Of The Esports Industry

Issue 24

Jordan Oloman, dedicated gamer and account executive at W North in Newcastle, investigates why 2017 will be the year to start paying attention to eSports.

The 1980 National Space Invaders Championship was the first large-scale competitive gaming competition.

Organised and held by Atari, the event drew 10,000 gamers across America from their local arcades and into a hotel lobby lined with TVs and consoles. Spokeswoman Ginny Juhnke described the response to the event as ‘unprecedented’.

Fast forward 37 years and the same simple concept is about to become a billion dollar industry, estimated to reach an audience of 385 million people in 2017.

For a hobby born out of basement LAN parties, unprecedented doesn’t begin to describe the inimitable growth of this industry from niche to mainstream.

Just last month 27.8 million hours were spent watching the most popular eSport League of Legends on streaming platform Twitch, with other heavyweights like Counter Strike, DOTA 2, Hearthstone and Starcraft filling in the top five.

This doesn’t even consider the data from other platforms like Youtube Gaming, MLG or Hitbox. Naturally, worldwide total consumption of eSports is expected to reach 6.6 billion hours by 2018.

Regardless of the numbers, 2017 may be the first year most of the public hear about eSports. Sky Sports and the Daily Mail are rumoured to be about to go live on major eSports coverage across its platforms.

Whilst this medium has been nibbling controversially at the heels of traditional sport for a long time, this is the year that the industry is starting to come into its own and gain global recognition.

Last year, you may have been one of the 31 million viewers who tuned in to watch Game 7 of the NBA finals. Would it surprise you to learn that 12 million more watched the finals of the League of Legends World Championships?

The 43 million who sat down to watch SK Telecom T1 defeat Samsung Galaxy 3-2 are evocative of the power of the eSports phenomenon. It all sounds like a different language to many of us, but this is the new generation’s Match of the Day.

Just nerds in their bedroom? Think again. The team of five took home their share of a $6.7m prize pool, and with the viewership speeding to terminal velocity, traditional sports executives understandably want a slice.

Just last year investment group aXiomatic purchased Team Liquid, one of the staple names in eSports. The board of executives consists of a number of famous names like representatives from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Magic Johnson, the American basketball legend.

Famous basketball star Shaquille O’Neal also co-owns NRG, an esports company boasting teams across a wide spectrum of video games.

Ashton Kutcher and famed DJ Steve Aoki are another set of names deeply invested in the eSports boom.

It’s not just outside investment that is taking the world by storm either, as Universities and even football clubs are starting to develop their own in-house eSports division.

Manchester City, Paris-Saint-Germain, New York City FC and Wolfsburg each have respective players hired to compete in FIFA approved tournaments, representing their team on the virtual pitch and promoting the team’s global brand.

It’s not like they’re paid any less either. The average age of an eSports player is 20, and whilst their cash flow is based on merit, the lucky few who perform well and have a fan following can earn millions in sponsorship and prize revenue.

Whilst the money makes the industry lucrative, it’s the validation and recognition that will propel competitive gaming forward, and it looks to be making constant progression.

There’s not a plateau in sight, either. Competitive gaming will feature as a medal event at the 2022 Asia Games, as the practice starts to break through and become a recognised sport just like football or tennis.

Blizzard’s brand new ‘Overwatch League’ to support the game of the same name comes out this year, and with a player base of over 25 million, a loyal eSports fan base is to be expected.

The only way is up, and for the virtual sports skeptics, it looks like its time to get on the bandwagon and put down the handbook.

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