With professional and collegiate sports on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, esports has stepped in to fill the void for some fans. Still, although esports have already gained traction in recent years, online competitions have yet to meet the level of mainstream success that traditional sports have achieved. But here’s why that could change — despite how esports have been affected by the coronavirus.
The Audience Now Has a Good Chance To Expand
Many fans of the MLB, NBA and NHL are now turning to esports to get their gameday fix. In addition, the shutdown of schools could lead younger fans to get into esports as they have more time to watch their favorite influencers play. These new fans could continue tuning in to Twitch or YouTube competitions even after traditional sports resume.
People Are Hungry For New Sources of Entertainment
There’s only so much Netflix you can watch. With more time on their hands, people who didn’t even watch traditional sports might find themselves watching esports as an alternative to their usual entertainment.
The Esports Audience Has Already Been Growing Rapidly in Recent Years
Though the coronavirus pandemic will likely bring in new esports fans, the audience has already been growing exponentially. The audience for esports has more than tripled from 2012 to 2019, according to data from video game retailer and publisher Green Man Gaming.
Esports Already Has a Larger Audience Than American Football
In 2019, esports drew in 443 million global viewers; American football and rugby combined attracted 410 million viewers, Green Man Gaming reported. The esports audience is projected to surpass the audience for baseball by 2022.
Young Gamers Are Watching More Esports Than Traditional Sports
A 2020 report by Limelight Networks found that gamers ages 18 to 25 spend significantly more time each week watching other people play video games online (4 hours, 7 minutes) than they spend watching traditional sports on TV (2 hours, 36 minutes) or online (2 hours, 34 minutes).
Major Companies and Leaders in the Entertainment Field Have Been Investing Heavily in Esports
In 2019, esports received a whopping $1.95 billion in investment funding, The Esports Observer reported — so clearly investors see a huge potential for growth for the industry. Among the top investments for the year was a $51 million joint venture between Comcast and Korean telecommunications firm SK Telecom to launch a joint esports venture, T1 Entertainment & Sports. In addition, actor Will Smith was part of a $46 million funding round raised by the esports organization Gen.G.
Professional Sports Teams Take Esports Seriously
Professional sports teams have also invested in esports. For example, the NBA teamed up with Take-Two Interactive for the NBA 2K League, which had its inaugural season in 2018, ESTNN reported.
The Stakes Are Sometimes Already Higher Than for Traditional Sports
Red Bull compared the prize pool of The International esports tournament and the prize pool for major traditional sports tournaments, and The International’s pool — at $23 million in 2017 — topped that of many pro sports. The prize for the Tour de France that year was 2.28 million euros ($2.52 million) while the prize for the U.S. Open was $10.25 million, for example.
Esports Revenues Are Projected To Top $1 Billion This Year
Game market research group Newzoo projects that global esports revenues will grow to $1.1 billion in 2020, up from $950.6 million in 2019. The majority of the revenue — $822.4 million — will come from media rights and sponsorships, the company said.