The world of eSports is growing at an alarming rate, showing a consumer shift from playing games to watching them. This is much like what we discuss in our esports podcast.
Few titles have survived an entire decade. In 2011, StarCraft II was the big esport, dominating the major tournaments, but few play it now. In 2021, there are so many significant events it is impossible to list any single one as the primary tournament on the calendar.
In 2011, eSports was still niche, with new tournaments such as the North American Star League in their inaugural season. The following year, we began to see the embryonic eSports world as we know it now begin to form; 2012 was the first year both League of Legends and Dota 2 entered the eSports calendar. The International, described by Dexerto the platform’s major tournament, started in 2011 with a $1.6m prize fund. As of today, it tops the eSports world, with Bwin confirming it offers a whopping $40m prize fund. Whilst it is the most high-profile eSports tournament, other games such as Fortnite and CS: GO also have significant prize funds and draw millions of viewers, spawning sites, and user groups dedicated to building their experience outside Twitch.
That’s where eSports has taken off over the last decade: viewers. Much of that concerns Twitch’s platform, which helped deliver the streams via one manageable portal to a waiting world. Twitch was founded in 2011, but by 2020, it became the one-stop shop for video gaming stream content with almost 10m active users per year. With a wide range of content on there, both tournaments and amateur gamers alike, it allows eSports to reach as many people as possible; that isn’t just those official tournaments either, but one-off events such as those hosted by sports teams during the recent pandemic.
The pandemic was another critical growth catalyst for the eSports world. People were confined to their homes, unable to interact with others, but eSports carried on as much as possible. Crowds are still not allowed back into The International, but there was plenty for bored people to watch. Premier League football players participated in virtual contests, Formula 1 drivers bombed around virtual tracks, and people remained entertained worldwide. That will remain another critical moment in eSports history.
In terms of numbers, the rise of eSports puts it as one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet. Revenue growth was more than 30% annually. That slowed before the pandemic to around 23.3% in 2019. Revenue exceeded $947.1m in 2020, whilst 2021 sees the return of some fans to venues and another climb to potentially $1084m. That will mainly comprise sponsorship, around $641m, capturing the attention of the watching masses. By 2024, many analysts believe eSports viewership will be up to a total audience of 577.2m, up from below 20m in 2010.
With more platforms becoming popular and the exposure received from the pandemic, the growth of eSports will only continue. It is now a viable profession for young people, and the stars of the controllers are becoming as well known in some countries as stars of track and field. Indeed, Denmark’s government even has an eSports strategy, and as interest grows, that will likely become the norm, not the exception.