two player game

How esports matches up against traditional sports in 2023

By William Davis

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Sep 17, 2023

Reading time: 4 min

The past five years have drastically changed how the world views esports. Gaming has long been mainstream, with the affordability of computers and the advent of smartphones resulting in billions across the globe playing their favorite games each day. What has changed a lot in the past few years is the way competitive gaming has gained a wider audience.

The idea of people watching others play video games with the same intensity as fans of soccer, basketball, or tennis fans was unheard of in the past. There are now millions of people who are devoted and committed fans of esports.

But is the sector still experiencing the rapid growth it did in 2020 and 2021, or is it experiencing some slowdowns and stagnation in its progress towards the same level of popularity as regular sports? In this article, we analyze and compare esports’ popularity with that of traditional sports in 2023.

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The Rise of Esports

There is no denying the incredible rise of the competitive gaming phenomenon known as esports over the past few years. Even though people have accepted gaming as a mainstream hobby for a couple of decades, the idea of gamers being athletes is still very new. The standard view of gaming being a sport was always negative, with people suggesting that gamers were neither physically fit nor did they exert themselves in the same way as basketball players or golfers.

Esports being so easily accessible, however, has changed a lot of perceptions. People who would spend a few hours watching gaming tournament videos on YouTube began to understand the intense competition at the very top of these games. They also understood gamers’ commitment to achieve good enough results to qualify for tournaments.

Appreciating the work these gamers put into their craft made people compare them with athletes more favorably. While they were not running at full speed or tackling each other, gamers did need incredible hand-eye coordination, reflexes, and mental clarity to perform at their best during tense moments.

Greater accessibility leads to a wider audience

There would be no esports phenomenon without these tournaments being so easy to stream and access. Platforms such as Twitch and YouTube are leading the way in this respect.

A quick visit to Twitch allows you to search for specific games and see who is streaming those titles. Not every person you click on is an esports player; some are casual gamers who stream to a large audience. You can, however, find specific tournaments by searching for them within the platform.

Twitch is ideal for watching live streams of tournaments or particular players, but you can also watch highlights on YouTube for free. Compare that to regular sports, where you often pay anywhere from $50 to $150 per month, depending on the sports or teams you follow.

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Traditional sports have staying power

What many esports competitions and athletes have realized is that even though they are becoming more popular, they are still inferior to traditional sports in the eyes of advertisers. 

The marketing deals signed by athletes such as LeBron James, Lionel Messi, and Tiger Woods are in a different class than any deal an esports athlete could hope to get. The same is true for many tournaments, which find that sponsors are less willing to put big money into marketing during their competitions.

Sponsors may feel they can reach a younger audience through more cost-effective means, such as advertising on Instagram and TikTok.

Will the gap ever be bridged?

Many gamers and esports enthusiasts are asking whether they’ll ever be able to bridge the sizable gap to traditional sports. While esports have carved a niche among the population, they are very much in the shade of sports such as soccer, tennis, basketball, American football, golf, cricket, and motor racing around the world.

Television coverage may be one of the most effective ways to close the gap. While some channels — such as ESPN — cover esports, they still get far less visibility on traditional media. If networks with high viewership start carrying major esports tournaments, they may become more popular among the general population.

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Esports still have a long way to go if they are to match regular sports for popularity and money. Even though esports events can occasionally make millions, traditional sports such as soccer, tennis, rugby, golf, and basketball are worth billions.

People enjoy watching others play video games, but only if they can do so for free. Only some people are willing to pay money to watch such content, which is why platforms such as YouTube are finding it difficult to get a lot of subscribers for their YouTube Premium service, which provides ad-free access to content on the platform.

While there is still much room for esports to grow, the past year has shown that stagnation is possible. Getting people to care as much about League of Legends or Overwatch as they do the NFL or NBA will take longer than avid gamers may have anticipated.

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