We millennials sure love to ruin everything, don’t we? First, we came in with participation trophies, we moved on to tank the economy and now we have come for sports! *Queue diabolical laughter*
According to this Reuter’s article, global esports revenues will rise above one billion dollars by the end of 2019. Yes, that’s a billion with a “B,” and that represents an annual increase of 27 percent. While it still may not be advisable to raise your children to be esports athletes, the industry is growing at an exceptional rate. As it turns out, fun has turned into serious business.
Similar to millions of other kids growing up, I would come home from school, sit down and turn on my Xbox to play
Halo 2. In my early teens, I would stay up all night playing competitive online tournaments on weekends and during summers. The advent of online gaming in the late ’90s and early 2000s exposed millions of people just like me to competitive gaming. I remember being ecstatic during a car ride home, having won a full year of Xbox live at a local game store — as a preteen, saving $60 was enough to make me feel like the greatest player of all time. Meanwhile, this year in July, a sixteen-year-old made over $3 million winning an online tournament for the smash hit Fortnite.
There seems to be a slightly noticeable generational divide when it comes to esports. The majority of U.S. viewership ranges between the ages of 18 and 34. Just like when my grandparents told me that the iPhone would never take off because, “who needs a camera in their pocket?” This trend is not necessarily intuitive, but inevitable. Just as civilizations have moved away from blood sports like the Mesoamerican ball game or the Roman gladiatorial events, people are moving away more and more from what we see as traditional sports.
But why would anyone want to watch other people play video games? This question is echoed across the internet in message boards and on popular television shows. Just as a fifteen-year-old may not understand the nuances of play calling in an NFL game, my dad certainly has no clue about the nuances of sideboarding in a competitive Magic the Gathering (or MTG) event. My true esports love is watching competitive MTG because I can watch and see how the pros navigate complex game states. It is akin to getting free advice on how to improve your swing from Tiger Woods when you sit down and watch Luis Scott-Vargas play matches on Twitch. Critically, esports has two advantages that traditional sports will never be able to touch — evolution and variety.
Every year, Activision releases a new Call of Duty, Epic Games introduces new weapons and cosmetics into Fortnite, Wizards of the Coast add new cards to MTG, Blizzard adds new characters to Overwatch and Valve introduces new heroes into Dota 2. To keep gamers invested in these games, companies regularly pump out updates to the games that add new cosmetic and gameplay experiences. If you are a consumer, you can watch the pros play the new content to verify if it looks like something that may interest you.
But variety is the spice of life. When our marketing team approached me, my brain immediately went to a few specific places. My instant reaction was to talk about first-person shooters and collectible card games, while many friends of mine jump to talk about real-time strategy games, sports games, fighting games and mobas (multiplayer online battle arenas). You will never catch me watching the DOTA International, but I anticipate watching MPL Weekly. That’s the piece of the puzzle missing in the minds of those who aren’t invested in the esports ecosystem. Regardless of the kind of gamer you are, there is an esports league with compelling content for you.
This all presents, of course, an incredible opportunity for technology providers. Imagine another burgeoning NFL or NBA, except the players themselves are using top of the line technology to play and to practice. There will be tournaments and arenas (both temporary and permanent), live broadcasts, spectators, fans, announcers, theatrics, and professional esports… athletes? Universities are investing in esports teams, esports leagues are emerging and one day, DreamHack might even eclipse the Olympics. Billions of dollars at stake and much of it will be spent on the technology to make this all happen.
Regardless of whatever preconceived notions that you have about esports, you would be wise not to ignore this industry. Parents in the ’80s that bought Atari and Nintendo for their kids probably never dreamed that the gaming industry would grow to a multi-billion dollar global industry. Don’t be caught behind the curve, thinking that esports will never be as big as traditional sports.