Esports: A Hidden Billion Dollar Industry
When asked which sport we believe makes the most money, many of us will consider the wealthiest sports to be football, rugby, tennis…With players like Beckham, Wilkinson and Murray claiming a combined net worth of over £550m, it’s certainly a lucrative industry to compete in. But take one short leap online, and you’ll soon be introduced to the untapped well of wealth being invested into a secondary form of competitive activity: Esports.
Over the past ten years, the popularity of organised computing gaming tournaments has risen drastically, and the wealth of the industry is now reaching billion dollar figures. In 2016 alone, Esports generated almost £500m in revenue, and claimed an audience reach of 320 million people, players and commentators. Recent figures have even cited that the Esports business is predicted to become a £1000m industry by 2020.
So what actually is Esports?
Esports consist of competitive multiplayer online gaming, typically played by opposing teams, battling in tournaments and competitions worldwide to win notorious titles and financial prizes. Yet, whilst competitive gaming tournaments have been established for decades previously, there has never been any form of gaming competition quite on this scale. With popular games tournaments such as League of Legends filling out arenas, fans and enthusiasts come to watch their favourite teams play, and much like a physical sporting match, have passionate responses to each attack, victory and success in the game. The teams can spend months and years training for particular tournaments, and hire professional gaming coaches to help them fight their way to the top.
Where does the money come from?
But if Esports tournaments are so similar to regular sport tournaments, how come they make so much more money?
The Esports world is an incredibly lucrative market. With the gaming industry alone having a significant amount of financial backing, there are a number of high profile investors and sponsors placing their bets on Esports to be the next major money pot. A-list celebrities such as actor Ashton Kutcher and ex-NBA star Shaquille O’Neal have publicly given sponsorship to particular Esports teams, and big name brands like Facebook, Twitch and ESPN have also financially supported the industry.
The salary of the individual player is dependant on their ranking, team, and the game they specialise in – for example, Riot Games who create League of Legends, pay their top ranking player’s £50k on average per year. However, there is a large commercial interest in the sport as well, with major brands offering affiliate programmes and content advertising for their gaming influencers. In many Twitch livestreams, live competitions and online social platforms, gamers can be paid surprising amounts of money just to talk about a particular product if brands believe their audiences will respond positively to the recommendation.
Where else can Esports go?
Esports is no longer restricted to solely gaming audiences. The rise of Youtube gamers, televised gaming tournaments and addictive mobile games apps means that Esports teams such as Fnatic, Optic Gaming and Team SoloMid are becoming millennial household names. Youtube Red recently published a series called ‘Good Game’, following a young Esports team as they try to compete in gaming tournaments, whilst in 2016 the BBC published a Youtuber-led documentary, ‘The Supergamers’, revealing the lifestyles led by competitive professional gamers.
But as the gaming industry develops, and with new gamers picking up their first consoles everyday, Esports is only set to get bigger and better over the next few years.