Magnus Leppäniemi, Vice President of Marketing & Head of Esports, Esports Entertainment Group (NASDAQ: GMBL)
Let me paint you a picture. It’s the Staples Center in Los Angeles, all of its 21,000 seats have been sold out in a matter of minutes. The fans are buzzing with excitement, chanting their favourite players’ names. But this isn’t the LA Lakers game.
Instead, all these people are here to see the esports giants SK Telecom T1 take on Royal Club for the title of the best League of Legends team in the world and a hefty prize of $1 million U.S. dollars. With more than 32 million fans tuning in online to watch the event, the Season 3 World Championship would become a more watched sporting event than the World Series and the NBA finals that same year. It would go on to break all the previous records and become the most-watched event in esports history.
Little did we know at the time that just a few short months later that record would be shattered once again.
It’s been nearly seven years since the Season 3 World Championship took place in the Staples Center and the viewership record has been broken several times since. Esports has been capturing a huge and quickly growing amount of people’s attention. It’s a full-blown shift in digital entertainment and it’s a billion-dollar industry.
Which naturally raises the question - how did it happen that esports is now on its way to eclipse traditional sports?
The audience is young, curious, diverse, and most importantly, massive. To put it in perspective, esports viewership has doubled in the last four years, from 260 million in 2016 to almost 495 million esports viewers in 2020 - Seventy-two percent of whom belong to the highly coveted 10 to 35 age demographic which became almost notoriously hard to reach via traditional media channels.
The engagement in esports is unparalleled. Players and fans have a uniquely symbiotic relationship. The fan base doubles down as a grassroots training ground with spectators having the opportunity to become players if they are skilled and dedicated enough to compete at a high level. But it’s more than just playing a game: forty-two percent of all esports viewers don’t even play the game that they are watching.
Esports betting has a role to play in this equation as well. Much like it was with the NFL in 1989 when betting on the sport boosted the viewership of the competition, esports is experiencing the same phenomenon. With the esports industry still on the rise and with the esports betting market expected to surpass $13 billion in 2020, the viewership, events, and community engagement are all set to increase.
Twitch, the leading esports streaming site that was acquired by Amazon in 2014 for nearly $1 billion dollars, flaunts an impressive 421.6 minutes of content watched per person per month on average, about 44% more than that of YouTube, meaning esports fans consume so much more content already. By 2021, esports is expected to have more viewers in the U.S. than any other professional sports league but the NFL.
But this just might be the most interesting part: last year DOTA 2 fans contributed nearly $33 million of the $34.3 million dollar prize pool for a single event. Not only is that more than the $11.5 million prize pool for The Masters, but this kind of engagement is unparalleled in sports.
You don't need to dig deep to find the secret to the success of esports. The video game and its esports scene are intertwined with one another in a certain mutualistic-symbiotic relationship: as the game grows bigger, so does the esports scene, and the more popular the competitive aspect, the more people turn to play the game. The scene grows organically together with the game.
It’s not a question of “if” esports becomes big anymore. The only question now is just how much bigger can it get.
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