As reported by UK.businessinsider.com, projections for esports revenues and audience growth make for unbelievable reading. In 2015, esports generated $325 million and garnered a total, global audience of 235 million.
In 2016, those figures rose to $493 million and 323 million viewers. That’s tremendous growth. And looking ahead to 2020, esports will have a following of 589 million people across the globe and will generate $1.48 billion.
What’s behind the numbers?
Those projections do not include any money generated from the esports betting industry. That’s also booming at present and bears vast growth potential in years to come.
Another potentially lucrative area for esports to explore is that of media rights. The Financial Times reported that 2017 saw $95 million earned through these types of deals. Experts predict that by 2020, that number will have swelled to $340 million.
As you can see, everything related to the esports industry seems to predict a massive upsurge in popularity. As a result, we have seen many wealthy businesses and individuals rushing to stake a claim in the industry.
However, are these projections realistic? Have we, as a culture, fully embraced esports as a viable entertainment option? Will those massive audience numbers actually translate into reality once we hit 2020 and beyond?
Issues esports needs to address
Esports has boomed and boomed again in recent years. But what factors are currently acting as barriers to its accessibility and relevance to mainstream culture?
I have recently addressed the issue of gender equality in esports, with female players shockingly under-represented at esports’ highest levels. Making women’s esports a niche market reeks of tokenism. That’s the wrong image for an emerging industry.
Ensuring women are given the opportunity to compete would no doubt increase esports’ appeal among female fans. It would show women have a significant role to play in the industry, rather than a peripheral one.
The future of tournaments
There has been much hullaballoo about the allocation of the teams in the inaugural Overwatch League. Corporations and individuals bought into the league for a $20 million franchise fee.
Several key figures in the esports industry claim this form of “corporate esports” detracts from the roots of the game and ensures elitism will prevail. Instead, they argue allowing tournaments to grow organically over time, where individual players and teams prove their worth in a number of different competitions, is more inclusive.
The problem with this approach is that this does take time. People want to make money from esports now, and fans are hungry for new products. But at what cost? In this model, deserving individuals without considerable financial means are precluded from developing their own high-level teams.
While in South Korea, Japan, the United States, and many parts of Europe, the infrastructure and technology to play esports is commonplace, in many developing areas of the world, many individuals cannot participate due to tech roadblocks.
Of course, as technology gets older, it gets cheaper. Thus, more people may be able to afford the consoles and PCs that typically make up the tools of the trade for a serious esports fan. But it would be interesting to know whether those projections for the industry include a significant number of people from these emerging nations beginning to participate.
Will these people, if included in the data, have the means to play or view esports?
The challenge of other esports
Over the past 12 months, there has been a huge surge of interest in Battle Royale games, such as Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite. Both developed huge user bases at rapid rates. There are already plans afoot to develop esports tournaments around these games (much to the chagrin of some). Does this mean players of other esports will simply transfer their allegiances to newer games as the older games look less impressive with the passage of time?
The development of more esports titles should be a positive, but it could also water down the current number of players and audience members. Do new titles bring new players or do they simply attract the attention of current players?
Nobody will deny the future for esports looks very rosy, but that is not to say that the industry does not need to face forward and address its shortcomings. If it can do that, those lofty predictions could become a reality.