Fans fill up stadiums and tune in from all over the world as they cheer on their favorite competitors in a test of strategic thinking, quick reflexes, and teamwork. This is not a description of a basketball or football game but rather an accurate reflection of the e-sports phenomenon gripping the globe.
Many may be tempted to dismiss e-sports as a passing fad. After all, it’s only about video games, right? That line of thinking, however, would fail to understand just what kind of growth e-sports has seen in only the past decade. The e-sports movement has quickly turned into a juggernaut, one to rival some of the most established leagues and competitions in the world. It’s a force that won’t go away anytime soon, and the numbers appear to back it up.
The very concept of e-sports hasn’t been around for very long. Competitive video game leagues first cropped up in the late 90s and early 2000s and were very humble beginnings from the get go. The Electronic Sports League (ESL), for example, got its start in 1997. Major League Gaming was founded back in 2002. Compare that with the likes of the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, and it’s clear that e-sports is the new kid on the block, and yet in such a short amount of time, competitive gaming has made some major strides. It’s bigger than you might think.
Take the most recent tournament for the popular computer game League of Legends. Every year, a worldwide tournament is held to crown the best League of Legends team. Last year, more than 35 million people streamed the finals, a big jump from the previous year. To put that in perspective, that’s more people watching League of Legends than such notable sporting events like the NBA Finals, the Masters, the World Series, and the Stanley Cup Finals. In fact, only the Super Bowl gets more viewers, in terms of sports competitions. Whole stadiums get sold out as people come to watch the top players show their talents.
The numbers from tournaments and international events are only the tip of the iceberg. More than 110 million people around the world consider themselves hardcore fans of e-sports. Even more—nearly 150 million—say they occasionally view e-sports events. This has lead to a huge boom in business for the e-sports industry, which was predicted to receive more than $250 million in revenues in 2015, a new milestone.
As a consequence, the best players in the world can now earn a living playing video games. Some have even become celebrities and millionaires. Big money prizes are given to the winners of international tournaments. Dota 2 featured a prize pool of $5 million to the winning team. In other words, this isn’t chump change we’re talking about here. Serious money is up for grabs.
So why has e-sports taken off so impressively? Video games have certainly been popular before, so what’s the difference now? Much of e-sports’ growth can be attributed to the advances in technology, not just in online gaming but in the various new platforms available.
Twitch is a video streaming service where many gamers stream their gaming experiences live to viewers. Some streams can get more than 100,000 viewers on at once, and with tens of millions of potential viewers, Twitch has become a go-to platform for competitive and casual gaming. It’s no wonder Amazon recently bought Twitch for nearly a billion dollars. YouTube has also been instrumental in the rise of e-sports. Many players post their videos of their gaming exploits. Some of the most popular YouTube channels are centered on gaming, and gaming channels feature more than 80 million followers. Combine that with the data analytics tools that can target specific audiences, and video platforms can now reach gamers from all over the world.
Predicting what the future holds for e-sports is a bit tricky. The growth will likely continue as the industry becomes more legitimized in the eyes of advertisers and sponsors, but as for how much growth we’ll see, it’s too early to tell. The truth is that v doesn’t rely on traditional media outlets, geek culture has become mainstream, and businesses see a lot of money in appealing to the younger e-sports demographic.
The past decade may just be the opening salvo in what could be a dominant run for the e-sports industry.