We write weekly on this site about esports’ seemingly unstoppable growth. For one, the latest reports suggest esports revenues are set to exceed $900 million in 2019 and hit the 1 billion mark a year later. Overall, this relatively fringe market is moving to the mainstream. A bright and profitable future seems in the tea leaves.
But let’s play devil’s advocate today. After all, unassailable hot streaks always cool somewhere. Indeed, there are a number of issues esports needs to address in the coming years.
There is no doubt the industry still is largely unrepresentative of society in many ways. The typical esports player is twice as likely to be male as female. Demos skew heavily toward ages 15-30 and the physically and mentally able.
Given that esports are for all, the inequality, particularly at the highest levels where female or disabled professionals are scarce, remains a thorny issue. There is a whole other level of issues here too, including online misogyny, that needs to be addressed.
Steps are being taken luckily. A great example is a recent tournament held in Japan that was open solely to disabled players. Then, in May, DreamHack announced an all-female CS:GO tournament.
The challenge for the esports industry is for these events to become part of the greater esports fabric, not simply one-offs that movers and shakers can tick off on their good-optics spreadsheets.
As the recent spat between FaZe Clan star Tfue and his team showed, the issue of contracts could become hugely problematic.
On the one hand, players may feel that at the moment too much power lies with the teams, who can (and likely have) offered players relatively poor value contracts in order to get them to sign initially. Tfue claimed as much in his dispute with FaZe Clan. The feeling is that players are too young, too inexperienced and lack the knowledge to fully grasp the legal terms of their contracts, often until it is too late.
Ensuring that contracts are fair and workable is key. But by the same token, they also need to work for teams, who may be pushed to the brink of bankruptcy if they have to start paying players and agents massive fees in order to remain competitive.
The Franchise Model
Blizzard’s decision to do away with the standard “play your way” model for its Overwatch League and forthcoming Call of Duty League has split the industry.
On the positive side, it has attracted a massive number of investors. The league also has clear regulations regarding players contracts, which helps offset some of the issues raised above.
However, many in the esports community feel the franchise model is exclusionist. Players can no longer work their ways to become the best and own their own teams. The sheer amount of money involved in owning a franchise puts it beyond the scope of all but the very wealthy few and more into the realm of big business.
Blizzard counters this by arguing that Overwatch (and Call of Duty) players can hone their skills to become good enough to be drafted onto one of the teams competing in the tournament. But as with any selection process, this is flawed. The chances are beyond slim for the vast majority of players.
Striking the balance between franchise-model leagues and ones where players can start at zero and play their way to success is going to be key if the industry hopes to remain accessible for all and not just a cash cow for big business.
Accessibility and the acquisition of technology
There is no doubt esports has massive potential to grow. But it’s still a first-world industry in the sense of requiring access to technology (some of it expensive) and facilities (such as the Internet) to participate.
There are still many parts of the world where this ease of accessibility is not available, including developing regions such as India and Africa as well as parts of South America. Expanding into these markets means more than just marketing there; there is going to be a real need for the infrastructure and technology to improve.
How that works, especially with modern games such as Fortnite and Overwatch requiring some pretty sophisticated machinery and technology, is going to be crucial to global expansion.
By this, we don’t necessarily mean seeing more esports in schools. The industry is already well on its way in college and university domains.
We mean educating the people outside of those age ranges as to what esports is. The industry must counteract the widely held beliefs that “it’s just kids playing computer games.” Show them the money, the stages, the investors, the crowds, and maybe even how to play a game themselves. Perception can often be the last shoe to drop.