31 million people.*
This is how many people tuned in to watch the 2016 NBA Championship game in which the Cavaliers took home the trophy. This was a record-breaking number for ABC network’s 18 years of broadcasting the finals, and it was also a record-breaking year for ESPN’s online service, WatchESPN.
43 million people.**
This is how many people tuned in to watch the 2016 World Championships for League of Legends, which took place at various cities in North America including San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City. That’s right, 43 million people watching one event. “What even is League of Legends?,” you may ask. Well, welcome to the emerging world of eSports…
What are eSports?
To put it simply, eSports, a word not yet recognized by Microsoft Word, is the name for competitive, professional video gaming. Players become members of professional teams and compete against other players in tournaments around the world by traveling with international athlete visas (CBC). And yes, they earn real salaries, with the top players bringing in over a million a year – after all, this is a professional sport. Right now, the events are streamed on a site owned by Amazon called Twitch, but they are also starting to be streamed via YouTube gaming. In fact, gaming on YouTube has more followers than news, movies, and education combined (ESPN).
Where do these events take place?
You can attend eSports competitions at venues all around the world. For example, regional circuits for the League of Legends World Championship took place across North America, Europe, South Korea, and China. The tournament finals took place in (and sold out) the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. In fact, North America currently hosts the largest number of eSports live events; in 2015, North America held 42 out of a total 112 eSports live events in the world (Newzoo).
North America’s first dedicated eSports venue is located not too far from us here in sunny LA. eSports Arena, in downtown Orange County, is certainly bringing eSports into the mainstream entertainment ecosystem by hosting nearly constant events and competitions for gamers. eSports Arena plans to build out similar arenas in major markets of North America in order to be “radically responsive to the gaming community” and cultivate an infrastructure for what they believe will be the 21st century’s most popular sport.
Who’s in the audience?
When it comes to the audience (both event attendees and online viewers), Newzoo identifies two categories: enthusiasts and occasional viewers. In 2016, eSports brought in 131 million enthusiasts and 125 million occasional viewers; in 2019, eSports is expected to have 180 million enthusiasts and 165 million occasional viewers. Demographically, enthusiasts are typically aged 21-35, and are more likely to have a high income and full-time job than the general online populations. They are often cross-platform spenders who are active on online streaming sites and are willing to spend big on digital media and gaming products.
What does the industry look like?
According to Newzoo’s 2016 eSports Market Report, “eSports is the biggest disruption to hit our [games, eSports, & mobile] industry since the iPhone in 2007.” These competitions are creating a growing culture and community of gamers and gaming fans alike – allowing publishers to turn their titles into true entertainment brands. Each member of this community creates further monetization opportunities in the same way that NFL or NBA fans do. For example, the average annual revenue per fan of basketball is $15, and by 2019, eSports fans are already projected to have an annual revenue of $6 per fan, which is quite spectacular for a relatively brand new professional sport. In 2016, eSports revenue increased to nearly $500 million from 2015’s $325 million.
Though not entirely threatening to current professional sports, it is clear that eSports is going to continue to disrupt and potentially distract from some viewership of other live events. But the NFL and NBA aren’t just sitting back and waiting; they are getting involved. The NFL recently announced a partnership with EA Sports and their popular video game Madden NFL 17; meanwhile the NBA has partnered with 2K Sports to start an official eLeague based around NBA 2K, another popular and award-winning video game. According to Polygon, this will be the first time an official eLeague will be run by a professional sports league.
So what does this all mean?!
In the next 10 years, expect to see a LOT more. It’ll feel awfully familiar to attending any other professional sporting event. Lines outside stadiums and venues, merchandise stands lining the walls inside, broadcasters set up for live announcements full of gaming jargon, fans packing the stands, and huge screens to see all the action in crystal clear detail in real time. These gamers will continue to become international icons and many currently already have over a million followers on social media. Seventeen-year-olds who used to sit in their basements and play video games are now taking home prize pools of almost two million dollars. So don’t be surprised when you find yourself getting invited to attend an eSport event or when you find the television streaming a competition while you’re sipping a beer at your local bar. We’re excited to see how eSports continues to grow, and we can’t wait to share some eSports events with our fans.