In sports, 2020 had one clear winner.
Many leagues plodded on and many tried to do as much as they could, to finish their seasons or even begin new ones. However, things did not fare too well. At the end of it, what fans got was a disappointing season, abrupt starts and stops, as well as changes they were not used to, that took the sweetness out of the game.
But one sports industry managed to pull through with minimal damage: esports. Not only did streaming, merchandising, and games continue, the industry experienced growth in what was a recession year.
In 2020, the esports industry brought in about $1 billion, according to NewZoo. Even though there has been a lot of skepticism about the numbers associated with eSports, there is no denying that the games are growing, both in terms of the audiences they attract as well as the amounts of money involved.
The convergence of internet gamers/stars and traditional sportspeople
Not only are we witnessing the combination of gamer sensations and traditional athletes promoted heavily, but we have also seen traditional athletes make huge investments in esports. There is also a new but interesting combination that seeks to bring together internet sensations and traditional sportspeople.
One of these would be the recent Logan Paul v. Floyd Mayweather bout. The amount of money involved is so high that Mayweather called the fight a legalized bank robbery. In what many are calling a farce and others are dubbing entertainment, the convergence of Logan’s fans, who majorly aren’t boxing fans, and the fans of Mayweather, who may prefer to watch a boxing match rather than some kid on Twitch streaming Overwatch, presents an interesting direction many could take.
Some of the major investors in esports are big names in the world of traditional sports, lending credibility to a new but growing industry.
Notable investors include Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Mark Cuban, and many others. There are also big celebrities invested, including Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Lopez, Tony Robbins, Fernando Alonso, Christian Fuchs, and more.
What happens in 2021
Statista projects that in 2021, the esports industry will grow to just over $1.08 billion. Most estimates place it over $1.6 billion by 2024, indicating that it is an industry many expect will grow. The majority of this money comes from advertising and sponsorships, as well as the rest of the media in terms of rights, digital revenue, streaming, merchandising, and tickets.
In comparison, the Premier League, which showcases soccer, one of the most popular sports on earth, sold television rights for more than 4 billion pounds in 2018. Esports events are not nearly worth that much now, but the numbers keep going up, which means we are yet to hit the ceiling.
The world population is growing. The younger the people, the more likely they are to watch video games being streamed. Having grown up watching YouTubers, it’s not hard to deduce that the hyperconnected world is changing everything, including how we perceive, consume and even view sports in general.
The impact of content production in sports
The esports industry is well-suited to content production. It was built for and has had an easy time adapting to the world of content creation.
Streamers are a great example. They make tons of money garnering followers who congregate in fanbases to watch all sorts of content including vloggers who document their daily life, participants in challenges, streamers playing video games on a professional or amateur level, or even online casino games and more.
Getting to know the gamers playing the games is a big part of the story. For that reason, many of these players are leaving sponsored teams that were set up to collect, train and then deploy talent in competitions, since the experience is grueling and doesn’t let the gamers have autonomy over what they want to do.
The gamers who have left esports teams take their abilities to Twitch and YouTube. There, they can engage with an audience that is genuinely interested, engaged on a personal level and make money while at it. That aspect of unbridled content production can only be achieved through independence from the esports teams which formed after the industry started taking off.
The traditional sports industry has not failed to notice the power of narratives and controlling the stories that are told about them on the internet.
From Formula 1 shedding its elitist image to create a presence across all of the social media to obscure English teams making documentaries with a Fresh Rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, many sportspeople and leagues are leveraging the power of content creation and media to gain audiences.
The content creation niche used to be reserved for internet geeks but now, it is a refuge for any team, athlete, or league that wants to survive. Esports has taken to the changing world like a fish in water and could help bridge the gap between two different audiences with the common goal of experiencing the thrill of sportsmanship.
Esports is taking the stage
It is becoming more evident that esports will go mainstream and enjoy viewership on par with other traditional sports. Esports has proven to be resilient while other sectors are struggling. Since games could continue online and be streamed to audiences in a manner they were already familiar with, the opportunities associated with it were still accessible and actually experienced growth.
As people spend more time at home, they are seeking out new ways to get entertained. Streaming games that no longer feel like what they were (soccer, basketball, baseball, American football, etc.) is slowly being edged out by the rise of young fans who are more likely to watch and support eSports since they can play at home too.
Traditional sports will always be a big part of the human entertainment experience. However, esports will not be denied its spot in the big leagues.