Op-Ed: Why esports is having more than just a moment amid coronavirus lockdowns

03 Apr 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

Darrell McLennan Fordyce, Global CMO & Co-MD Sports, 23 Capital, looks at the growth of esports and highlights why its growth will extend far beyond the current lockdowns caused by the coronavirus.

In the absence of some of the nation’s favourite sporting staples – namely Champions League nights, Gillette Soccer Saturday and Super Sunday – sports fans up and down the country are turning to something different to get their regular fix: esports. 

Much has been made of the opportunity that the widespread coronavirus disruption has presented esports, but the truth is competitive video gaming has been gaining ground on traditional sports for some time now, and quickly at that. 

There are a greater number of young male viewers of esports than both the NBA finals and baseball’s World Series. In fact, no other sport has a greater share of fans under the age of 35 compared to the 85% of esports fans in that bracket.  

Analysis from market researcher, Newzoo, predicted that global esports revenues would exceed $1billion in 2020 with an audience of close to 500 million people, of which half were considered enthusiasts. Whilst this has been building for a number of years now, it is more recently that we have seen esports really take off. From a UK perspective, over a fifth (21%) of fans only started following the sport in the past 12 months.

It is that large, engaged viewership that is having the biggest direct impact on revenue. Brands have recognised the huge potential that exists and are investing accordingly to try and tap into that before the market gets too saturated. Viewing platforms such as YouTube and Twitch have also seen fast growth in their users which is only boosting esports’ total audience growth further. 

With the rapid rise we have seen, gambling operators have wasted little time in capitalising on that growth. Fans of esports bet more $8 billion last year alone. Sponsors recognise the potential too, with big-time players like Coca-Cola and Red Bull investing large sums to back the superstars of the esports world. One such personality, Faker, takes home more than $2million a year, and that’s before you factor in what he makes in sponsorship income. Whilst this started out as a hobby for many players, the earning potential is massive.  

Despite the inherently digital nature of its community, esports is still affected by the coronavirus outbreak. For the bigger events, organisers have no trouble filling out stadiums with thousands of fans in attendance. As has been the case with traditional sports, these events have, of course, been cancelled recently because of the coronavirus. That said, the growth of esports has not been built on crowds filling out stadiums but because of its loyal online following - which has been increasing exponentially year-on-year. 

Where traditional sports typically struggle to migrate online, esports can do this very easily. It is well set up to deal with the disruption the rest of the sport industry is currently reeling from. But esports isn’t just having a moment. It has been gaining ground on traditional sports for some time now. In fact, according to research by Activate, esports events in 2021 will see upwards of 80 million viewers. 

The challenge it faces is in continuing to convert sport fans in the long run to enable broadcasters to get the most out of it, but esports has well and truly made its mark.