eSports is the rapidly growing industry of competitive digital gaming, specifically when performed professionally and for a live streaming, broadcast, or in-person audience. While organized competitive gaming has arguably existed for decades, advancements in gaming technology, accessibility, streaming capabilities, and popularity have led to an astronomical rise in its commercial potential and perceived legitimacy in recent years.
In 2019, the top four gaming platforms had a combined 12.7 billion hours of streaming content. Players endure 14-hour day marathon gaming sessions seven days a week in pursuit of huge cash prizes. Millions of dollars are at stake, and millions of fans are watching.
The 2019 League of Legends World Championships had more than 100 million unique viewers. For comparison, the Super Bowl had 103 million unique viewers that year. Twitch, the primary streaming portal for eSports in the Western world, logged a staggering 800,000 years worth of content viewed in 2018 alone. (Twitch was acquired by Amazon in 2014.) One game that entered the global zeitgeist since its launch in 2017 is Fortnite, with a reported 250 million registered accounts and monthly active users in the tens of millions.
In 2019, Fornite pushed boundaries on in-game content with events such as the DJ Marshmello concert, with more than 10 million unique views, and the black hole blackout, where millions of viewers logged in to watch essentially a looped video of a black hole while the game was offline for maintenance for 48 hours. Parent company Epic Games quickly capitalized on Fortnite’s success, pledging a record $100 million in prize money for the game’s tournament season last year.
Non-gaming content also does well on eSports platforms. The “Just Chatting” chatroom channel on Twitch has been the third most popular channel for the past two years. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Microsoft’s Mixer now lure top gamers away from Twitch with exclusivity contracts, but it will take more than that to chip away at Twitch’s dominance.
Leading up to this year’s 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Intel will host its Intel World Open eSports tournament featuring Street Fighter V and Rocket League with a total prize pool of $500,000. The 2024 Olympics, held in Paris, will include demonstration eSports events.
As audience numbers for eSports continue to climb, platforms will compete to outbid each other for media and streaming rights for events like League of Legends World Championships and Fortnite concerts. eSports may one day rival television as a form of mainstream entertainment because of its interactive and immersive nature.
Advertisers are taking notice. Louis Vuitton partnered with Riot Games to design custom avatar skins and player accessories. Nike sponsors several professional teams. As the sport matures, so will concerns about fair play. E-doping is already an issue in professional eSports leagues, where Adderall and Ritalin are banned substances and using a cheat-code can get you banned for life.
eSports is primed to continue its growth as a major cultural phenomenon in the near future, with significant impact expected in the gaming, sports, streaming, entertainment and tech sectors. eSports is also viewed as one of the first truly global entertainment mediums in its reach and influence, which has investors salivating.
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