In what will be my final article of 2018, it’s a good time to take stock of the esports industry and what 2019 may hold in store.
Currently, the potential for growth until at least 2020, and likely well beyond, remains very optimistic. In 2017, the industry generated $655 million globally. And experts predict that in 2018, that will have increased to $906 million. By 2019, the figures should crash through the billion barrier at 1.187 billion. According to Statista, esports is on schedule to continue its revenue increases year over year until at least 2021, when it is expected to be a $1.65 billion industry.
The same source also predicts that esports audience size will continue to grow until 2020. After that, there may be a slight downturn in the number of frequent viewers of esports although the numbers for watching occasionally continue to show growth.
But let’s think more specifically about the year ahead. After all, numbers are just numbers, and industries grow one development at a time. Here’s what should be on tap for 2019.
Bigger, Better, and More Tournaments
Although its franchise model was heavily criticized in some quarters, the inaugural Overwatch League was a huge success for Blizzard. It generated not only massive income for the franchises but also massive fan interest.
That said, there have been the occasional teething troubles, including one team that managed to lose every game in 2018. With the expansion of each of the Pacific and Atlantic Divisions to 10 teams for this season, the Overwatch League is on track to compete with the LoL World Championships, Dota 2’s The International, and many of the tournaments in the Intel Grand Slam for CS:GO.
In 2019, I think tournaments like these will continue to grow, but I also feel other tournaments perhaps on the tier below will increase their standing.
I can also see many new tournaments being developed to take advantage of the quieter times on the esports calendar. (although for some top teams, their schedule for the year already is rather full). The forthcoming new Premier League and Champions League come to mind. Truly, 2019 could be the year of FIFA esports.
Greater investment in subsidiary industries
As we have seen with the development of the esports betting industry over the years, there are many ways in which other businesses, those that perhaps don’t have obvious links with esports, can become involved within the industry. I think the signs are good that this is likely to continue in 2019.
Indeed, it has only just been announced that Evil Geniuses CEO Alexander Garfield is at the helm of a new company, Popdog, which has secured a $9 million investment to develop products aimed at live streaming events, finding the next generation of esports players, and encouraging publishers to develop esports content.
While the corporate side of esports will undoubtedly play a key role in 2019, I also feel there will be further investment in securing and protecting the rights of players. We have already seen several esports where centralized contracts are used, which guarantee players a rate of pay, rights, and time off. To alleviate concerns over players’ physical and mental health, I can see standard business practices having a greater role to play in esports in 2019.
Development of para-esports
One of the most intriguing developments in the industry is the prospect of para-esports, much in the same vein as the Paralympics offers athletes with disabilities the chance to compete against each other in a structured and fair way.
Japanese professional football club Nagoya Grampus 8, for whom Gary Lineker was a former star, has led the way by starting its own para-esports organization, offering disabled gamers the opportunity to play against each other. The club has partnered with game developer Wonder Planet and local esports team Nagoya Oja for the project.
On this subject, it’s perhaps conspicuous that while gender equality in esports if often discussed, little has been said about offering players with disabilities new opportunities. Of course, that may be because many disabled people already play esports in one form or another. However, details and data to corroborate this are almost impossible to find.
It will be interesting to see what other companies follow Nagoya Grampus 8’s lead in this matter and how the para-esports industry develops over the next 12 months or so.
Continued growth of mobile
I think 2018 saw mobile esports’ slow burn continue, but perhaps not at the same pace as other aspects of the industry. Still, there’s no doubt mobile technology plays a key role within esports, particularly in terms of live streams, but I think that true mobile esports games are still a little simplistic compared to the real giants of the industry at present.
The success of games on social media, where mobile gaming has really taken hold, shows that there is massive interest in this particular type of gaming. Esports just hasn’t quite found the right vehicle for a true take-off.
Could that change in 2019? Possibly, but I think for this coming year, mobile esports will continue its measured growth.
Adoption of other technologies
To play esports, you tend to use either a console controller (such as an Xbox or PS4 controller) or a mouse and computer keyboard.
But technological diversity is coming. A great example of this is the online cycling platform Zwift, which has recently secured a $120 million in funding. Zwift connects a user’s exercise bike directly to the internet. The network of users can then race against each other in a range of different competitions. In its marketing, Zwift states it has over a million users and that one third of the peloton that participated in the Tour de France used the software.
So what’s the potential intersection of gaming and fitness? Head into any gym nowadays, and many different types of equipment, such as cross trainers, treadmills and exercise bikes, are all individually connected to the internet. That connection could be the key to unlocking a range of esports that occur away from Playstations and computer monitors.