Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer are the five most popular sports in the United States. These sports have maintained control over American audiences for decades, however, a new global sensation is taking over. Esports is quickly and efficiently cementing their position as the future of the sports industry, redefining society’s perception of what an athlete is, while simultaneously revolutionizing the world of sports.
Esports is a form of competition using video games and often takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams. The most popular Esports games include Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO), League of Legends, Dota 2, Call of Duty, and Fortnite. Additionally, Esports has grown increasingly popular in sports simulation games such as Madden, NBA 2k, and Fifa. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has created the NBA 2K League in which each professional franchise has a subsidiary 2K team, competing for cash prizes and representing their NBA counterparts. Interestingly enough, BSBA’s own President Collin Flintoft grew up with and remains friends with Dayne Downey, also known as OneWildWalnut, who was the 6th overall pick in the 2018 inaugural 2K draft as well as the 2018 NBA 2K MVP.
In recent years, all of these Esports has exploded in popularity, breaking records year after year. Dubbed one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, Esports has grown from an estimated audience of 263 million viewers in 2016 to an estimated audience of 557 million in 2021 (Newzoo’s 2021 Global Esports and Live Streaming Market Report). It is also estimated that the sport will reach an astronomically high viewership of 920 million people by the year 2024, in comparison to Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Football League’s (NFL) downward trending numbers (Juniper Research). With this increase in viewership, there also comes a considerable increase in revenue. Esports in 2021 is expecting a 14.5% increase in revenue, rising from $947.1 million in 2020 to $1.1 billion, while the industry as a whole is expected to be valued at $3.5 billion by the year 2025 (Newzoo’s 2021 Global Esports and Live Streaming Market Report). Esports’ tremendous popularity in many Asian and South American countries is a huge contributor to this increase, however, America is quickly starting to play a bigger role. A large percentage of this revenue comes from in-person tournament ticket and merchandise sales, both of which have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. That being said, Esport’s online format has proven to be very beneficial during this year-long hiatus from in-person events, allowing for the industry to continue to thrive, while so many others have struggled.
The steady viewership that Esports has encountered is in part due to the company Twitch.tv. Twitch is the undisputed leader in video game streaming platforms, featuring casual users streaming video game content from home as well as major Esports tournaments, vlogging, and music-themed streams. According to Twitch, the platform has reached 2 million monthly broadcasters and 15 million active daily users. Incredibly, Twitch has also accumulated over 443 billion minutes watched thus far in 2021, which is a 38.7% increase from last year. Twitch allows for competitive players and streamers to earn income through subscriptions and tips, in addition to the millions of dollars of cash prizes competitors can receive through tournaments. Ninja, one of the most popular video game streamers, is estimated to earn over $650,000 per month in subscriptions alone, not including his winnings and sponsorships. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Esports industry is full of money.
While viewership and revenue are certainly increasing, active participants are as well. According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, over 170 U.S. colleges now have varsity Esport programs. Additionally, these programs are offering over $16 million in scholarships, demonstrating how lucrative this industry is becoming. At this point, collegiate Esports tournaments have attracted over 1350 schools and 40,000 players, however, both of these numbers are expected to soar.
Another large contributor to the rise of Esports is it’s demographic. The vast majority of Esports fans are in their teens and twenties, however, the average age is trending downwards. As younger children are getting increased access to technology sooner and sooner, ages 5-12 are becoming a larger share of the market. This is also because of video games’ established popularity amongst children, as, according to the Entertainment Software Association, more than 90% of kids play video games, and 97% of boys aged 12-17 play video games. Additionally, Esports is able to capitalize on the demographic of people whose genetics impact their ability to play and succeed in a more physical sport. Esports has quickly taken over the sports industry, are expanding demographics and revenue and it doesn’t seem as if anything will be able to stop them.