The eSports phenomenon shows no sign of slowing its growth, and for those that love gaming, 2023 and beyond looks like it will see the biggest events playing out on even bigger stages.
eSports covers any video game competition, played individually or as part of a team, and can trace its roots to the very earliest arcade games before coming to prominence with consoles, PCs, and live streaming. Competitive gaming in tournaments and leagues see players achieving titles and winning some eye-watering sums of money.
Video games can include things like first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and even casino games like slots and poker which can be found at Virgin Games. Some of the most famous eSports players play Battle Royale-style games, or even more retro games like Super Smash Bros.
What makes esports so popular, who is playing them, and how has the industry made billions?
A History of eSports
Although they didn’t know it at the time, a group of students at the University of Stanford put together a tournament playing the classic arcade game Spacewar. While there wasn’t a sum of money on the line – the winner received a year’s subscription to the popular magazine Rolling Stone – it has gone down in eSports history as the catalyst for this type of competition.
Arcades featured leagues and competitions, with the Space Invader Championships in 1980 attracting more than 10,000 players. Personal consoles allowed players to get up close with their games, and the 1994 Nintendo World Championships was one of the first to have spectators at the grand final that was held in San Diego.
Throughout all this, small competitive tournaments sprang up locally around the world, and it wasn’t until the internet became more widespread and allowed players to get online and play against each other regardless of location.
The growth of eSports has become so widespread that there are colleges and universities in the USA that offer sports scholarships to eSports athletes. According to Statista, the global eSports revenue was $1.38 billion, with the largest share (69%) coming from sponsorships and advertising.
Sponsorship Deals and Lifestyle Brands
While early eSports teams were gaming ‘nerds’, in today’s world the best gamers are fast becoming celebrities and idols in their own right.
Teams have benefitted from investment by private equity firms and venture capitalists. In 2018, according to Deloitte, investment in eSports (covering teams, leagues, and infrastructure) totaled $490 million. By 2019, that investment had grown by a staggering 837% to $4.5 billion.
In 2020, the top esports teams were valued in hundreds of millions of dollars – the top earners include:
Team SoloMid was established in 2009, with an estimated value in 2020 of $410 million. They have teams playing in all the major leagues and tournaments, including League of Legends, Fortnite, and Valorant. Although their sponsorship with cryptocurrency exchange FTX was cut short, the team are sponsored by big names like Twitch, MTN Dew, Logitech and GrubHub.
Originally founded in 2013, Cloud 9 (C9) now fields teams playing Dota 2, Apex Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Worth around $350 million in 2020, C9 became sponsored by Red Bull in 2018, joining a growing squad of endorsed athletes like Formula One racing teams and snowboarders.
Team Liquid has a huge following in the world of eSports and is worth around $310 million – not bad for a team started in the Netherlands in 2000 to play StarCraft. They are sponsored by Honda. Alienware, Coinbase, and Monster Energy among others.
The Faze Clan is one of the most active eSports teams when it comes to fan participation, and since being established in 2010 they amassed a value of $305 million by 2020. The team enjoy sponsorship deals with Champion, NFL, Manchester City FC, and the LA Kings.
Declaring themselves a premium lifestyle brand and gaming organisation, 100 Thieves (100T) has always been about style as well as substance. Initial funding came from famous artist Drake, and that has set the tone for the business is as much about lifestyle as it is about gaming. With teams playing in various tournaments and leagues in League of Legends, Call of Duty, and Valorant, 100T is sponsored by Twisted Tea and Truly Seltzer, with part ownership from several record labels.
Streaming and Mainstream TV
The biggest factor for the popularity of any sporting activity is how much it penetrates in popular culture – and esports is no different.
Not only are the biggest tournaments and leagues raking in millions of viewers on top streaming sites like Twitch and YouTube, but they are also being featured more and more often on regular TV. There are even dedicated TV channels for esports like ESTV and GINX. According to Statista, 261.2 million people watched eSports regularly in 2022, and that figure is likely to go as high as 318.1 million by 2025.
Twitch is obviously the home of streaming gaming content, but the growth of eSports has meant that top competitions have already encouraged huge numbers in physical attendance. 40,000 people are regularly seen in live audiences for some of the major tournaments. If we think about the audiences for live poker tournaments, streaming and TV coverage shows that there is an appetite for casino games to be as popular as other eSports games – and this is exciting for those of us who want the opportunity to win on a global scale when we are playing slots or blackjack
Alexia is the author at Research Snipers covering all technology news including Google, Apple, Android, Xiaomi, Huawei, Samsung News, and More.