The Boom of eSports — The Industry’s Past, Present and Future

Un jugador compitiendo en un torneo de eSpots.

The last League of Legends World Championship gathered 73 million spectators. The MOBA video game has set a new record for an industry that isn’t about to stop growing. eSports have progressively increased their similarities with analogue ones, to the point that the new generations don’t dream of becoming Ronaldinho or Jordan — they dream of becoming the next Jankos or the next Faker.

The universes presented by video games, the possibilities that the internet offers and the advent of eSports have caused this sector to keep a steady growth, both for users and developers as for spectators. In 2021, the industry significantly increased its annual report (generating more than 1,000 M$) and its number of followers.

Electronic sports are organised professional competitions for video game players. Each competition includes different disciplines and has different rules. Big audiences backing them have gotten the interest of different brands and sponsors who decided to support them, making it possible for an increasing number of players to fully devote to this activity. The life of analogue sports players and digital ones are becoming more and more alike.

For example, the NBA 2K League has already organised its first draft. Just like Lebron James, Micheal Jordan and other players waited to be selected by a team during this massive NBA annual event, now’s the time for video game players.

Which were the key factors for the change and boom of eSports?

Going back a few years, the internet gave place to the creation of guilds inside online multiplayer games which, in turn, fostered the evolution of professional teams. In most recent times, with the pandemic and the need of clubs to increase their audiences and find new ways of making money, they have evolved into global entertaining brands, creating content beyond the purely competitive side of it, in industries like music, fashion, lifestyle and even film.

Streaming has enormously favoured this opportunity, creating true mass idols, such as Ibai Llanos, who took his first steps in the world of digital entertainment as a caster (an electronic sports commentator), or TheGrefg, who managed to break a Guinness World Record when he gathered more than 2.4M spectators in his Twitch channel for the presentation of his Fortnite skin on 2021. They both share a love for eSports and they both own big eSports teams — Ibai, alongside football player Gerard Piqué, owns KOI, while TheGrefg has Team Heretics, the Spanish-speaking team with the most followers, reaching more than 5.5M in their own social networks.

I think thatthe turning point in their growth came with content and streaming platforms such as Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Gaming, or the Chinese ones, such as Huya or DouYu, which have all made it possible to reach massive world audiences for content of the most competitive side of video games and, by extension, of digital entertainment.

What effect do eSports have on the entertainment industry?

It’s a new way of understanding content consumption. Young audiences and the new generations want to enjoy watching professional competitive video game players. It’s not only football, tennis and basketball anymore; now, the star can be your classmate, both as a content creator or as a gamer.

As I mentioned earlier, digital entertainment is what has favoured the growth of eSports, amplifying its impact in new territories and mainstreaming the more professional side of video games. Everything is entertainment, and gamification has a lot to do with it, whether for content creators or content consumers.

eSports have definitely been and still are a window of opportunity for brands to reach and interact with audiences that are no longer in traditional media,that genZ, digital natives who look for digital entertainment from their own mobile phones or computers.

Mando de la Xbox sobre césped.

What are the challenges that the sector is currently facing?

  • Sponsorship Dependency

If there’s a crucial challenge for eSports to overcome, it’s their dependency on sponsorship. The growth of the ecosystem is based on sponsorships, representing more than 85% of a club’s turnover.Taking into account these wild times we’re living in and the volatility of marketing investments, adding the lack of understanding from some brands with regards to the new ways of interacting with young audiences, it becomes imperative to boost other aspects of the business in order to make it sustainable and profitable.

  • Gender Parity

There’s a need to foster the presence of women in the competitive scene. A greater competitive parity is needed — eSports let us break stereotypes, as long as we eliminate certain toxic behaviours in digital environments. Education always plays a crucial role.

  • Mobile eSports

Another important topic has to do with the mobile scene. Mobile eSports count with more than 1,000M followers in China, with a MOBA that’s like a Mobile Legends: Bang, Bang. A powerful sector that will keep on growing at an international level and who have developers supporting them.

  • Blockchain Opportunity

Let’s not forget about blockchain technology bursting in, the tokenisation of digital assets, the creation of NFTs or the concept of metaverse. A big opportunity for eSports, adding value to fans, presenting new ways to interact, and allowing for clubs to have a decentralised monetisation of their intellectual property. This wouldn’t just benefit big clubs, but also the amateur environments: the creation of guilds that play in the so-called “play to earn ” allows players to make money, which could help on the sustainability of the project. eSports and blockchain are inevitably meant to be together. If you put fan experience in the spotlight, the show is guaranteed.

  • Demands of an Infinite Audience

The gaming industry is bigger than music or film regarding turnovers; and it’s extending its arm towards mass entertainment, which puts eSports in a position to broaden its audience with a more spectacular and varied staging. A breeding ground for innovation and entrepreneurship, it also calls for professionals to build this new way of understanding entertainment and its business opportunities.

What’s in store for the future of eSports?

I think blockchain technology, AI, metaverse and extended reality will bring new perspectives to the industry, creating an immersive evolution of the competition. There are examples, such as HADO (a virtual reality sport that’s huge in China) or the metaverse, where users are no longer spectators — they are now the protagonist, with experiences that go beyond the purely competitive aspect.

Article written in collaboration with: Gonzalo García de Vinuesa, Partnership Activation Manager at Team Heretics.

There are no limits for entertainment. It already surrounds us and is part of our daily life. Because, our physical future will coexist with our virtual world.

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