eSports is the name given to competitive video games tournaments. It has grown from nothing to an industry valued at over a billion dollars in just a few years. Like most professional sports, prize money is awarded to competitors in many tournaments, depending on where they finished in the league. In 2017, the Dota 2 world championship set a record with almost $25 million in prize money awarded; this was significantly larger than many other sporting events, including the Tour de France, Kentucky Derby, golf’s US Open, and even the Daytona 500.
eSports Leagues for Specific Video Games
Some of the biggest eSports leagues are dedicated to a specific game and are typically organised by the game’s publisher. For example, the Call of Duty World League is organised by Activision, the company behind the hit first-person shooter. Some of the biggest eSports leagues in the world are those dedicated to specific games, including the PUBG Global Championship, the League of Legends Championship Series, and the Overwatch League.
Sports Leagues With Affiliated eSports Leagues
The other main driver of growth in eSports has been sports leagues setting up their own leagues as part of an initiative to find innovative ways to engage with younger fans. These leagues typically have players competing on video games that are either identical to, or slight modifications of, the retail versions of games that consumers are able to buy for themselves. Sports with their own eSports leagues include Formula One and the NBA.
The typical model for these leagues is for the teams from the real-life leagues to enter teams for the eSports league, too. Examples include the Los Angeles Lakers and the McLaren Racing Formula 1 team. Although affiliated with each other, the teams are completely independent in a sporting sense. For example, the NBA 2K League and its real-life counterpart operate independently of each other. The results of one has no bearing on the other. For example, the Dallas Mavericks are currently the least likely to win the NBA Championship, but their eSports team “Mavs Gaming” have been dominating the NBA 2K League.
Sponsorship and Partnership
eSports have become big business already. Just like real-life sports, sponsorship deals are proving to be a lucrative source of income for eSports leagues and teams. For example, the NBA 2K League is sponsored by computer hardware giants Dell and Intel, who provide the computers and components that the games are played on. The league currently uses 8th-generation Intel Core i708700k processors inside Alienware gaming PCs. These computers are also fitted with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics cards that are connected to 25-inch Alienware monitors. This setup is standard for all players and is a way for sponsors to demonstrate the capabilities of their products to consumers.
Other sponsors of eSports leagues include video game publisher Electronic Arts, drink brands Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew, internet service provider Xfinity, car manufacturer Audi, and airplane manufacturer Airbus. Whilst ticket sales, merchandising and the sale of broadcast rights are solid streams of revenue for eSports leagues, the bulk of their income is derived from corporate sponsorship deals.
eSports are just like other sports in that they attract large numbers of spectators who want to follow the action. If you are an esport spectator and you don’t want to miss a game you can bookmark this useful calendar of the upcoming esports matches and tournament. In 2018, around 380 million people viewed eSports games.
The 2017 the League of Legends World Championship attracted 106 million viewers, with 98% of these coming from within China. In raw numbers, this is similar to the number of people who watch the Super Bowl, but that accounts for around one third of the US population, whereas that number represents only about 10% of the Chinese population.
New leagues are likely to continue springing up. Major League Baseball is planning to launch its own eSports league next year (the MLB China eSports League) as a way to break into the Chinese market and get into eSports at the same time. Most of the viewers of eSports competitions are based in China, making the MLB move very logical.
Growth in viewership figures is expected over the next few years. This will come from two sources. Firstly, the overall popularity of eSports will increase as they become more well-known and recognised as legitimate competitions. In addition, the popularity of video games is significantly higher amongst young people than any other demographic. Research by the Washington Post-University of Massachusetts Lowell showed that 58% of people under 21 said they had watched eSports, whilst just 16% of the whole adult population had. As more of these young adults mature, the demographic that is interested in eSports will broaden, therefore making eSports more popular.
eSports have a long way to go before they can challenge the world’s biggest sports leagues like the NFL, although eSports appear to be just as popular as these leagues amongst younger fans. Based on the assumption that this could be the biggest source of growth for eSports, and the fact that traditional sports leagues like the NFL and MLB are struggling to attract younger fans, this could put their size and dominance at risk in the very long term.
Many eSports leagues have a qualification system to get into the league. These systems are typically open to anyone with a copy of the video game, requiring them to participate in an online tournament. Most of these operate in a format that continues to eliminate the worst performing players until a set number remain. Through a form of draft system, the most successful players are selected by the teams to represent them. This helps increase engagement in the sport and helps to promote sales of the game. Participation in such tournaments could increase over time as fans see the “rags to riches” stories from competitors who started out by just playing a video game online.
eSports have become very successful in a very short period of time, attracting hundreds of millions of spectators and being valued at around $1 billion. The majority of the biggest leagues are run either by the publishers of the video games or the owners of the sports leagues that the video games depict. Based on their current growth patterns and the fact that younger adults are more engaged in eSports, it seems unlikely that these leagues will see a slowing down of their growth any time soon.