In 2016, esports generated £400m in revenue and had a global audience of around 320 million people. The anticipated growth over the next four years is expected to be fueled by a number of key factors, including the burgeoning esports betting industry.
The influence of football in esports
One of the most important aspects of popularizing esports, particularly in Europe and the UK, is the involvement of other big sports teams in the esports industry. Already, soccer teams such as German’s Schalke 04, Dutch giants Ajax and PSV, and French titans Paris Saint-Germain have their own esports teams under the same name. Manchester City and West Ham United, while not yet having dedicated esports teams, employ some esports players to play for them, notably FIFA gamers.
Paris Saint-Germain Manager of Merchandising and Brand Diversification Fabien Allégre spoke to the BBC about PSG’s involvement in esports.
“Esports [are] for us a way to find a new fan of the brand, not necessarily focus[ed] on the soccer,” he said. “The idea is to bring the club to a large number of people who don’t know anything about football.”
Allégre believes esports are part of the future for football clubs across Europe, and he boldly predicted that soon there will be an esports version of the Champions League, in which the top football teams’ esports branches compete.
Some claim football clubs acquiring esports teams is a fad, but esports analyst Peter Warman of Newzoo disagrees.
“It’s more than a marketing stunt,” Warman says. “Football clubs see this opportunity as a strategic part of their franchise. Sports clubs are now dependent on revenues that come outside of their league, so this is their marketing objective. They are only dipping their toes into it right now, but their expectations are long-term and very large. Esports is completely global, with hundreds of millions of viewers, so it would take their brand across the globe.”
PSG’s esports team manager Bora Kim went one step further.
“In the long run,” he said, “I’m pretty sure esports can grow as big as football.”
Although such claims seem far-fetched, clubs continue to make moves. Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium, set to be completed for the 2018-19 season, has been designed to host a number of events other than soccer matches, including esports tournaments. Experts reckon this could generate revenue of around £3m per event for Tottenham.
Spreading the appeal beyond the core esports games
While the involvement of large football teams will certainly help spread the word about esports across Europe, there are other ways in which esports’ rapid growth should be ensured.
Warman argues the organization of large scale tournaments — similar to the World Cup or Champions League in soccer, with regional qualification competitions and clearly delineated rules and regulations — would accelerate esports’ popularity across the globe.
The popularity of huge events like Dota 2’s the International or League of Legends’ World Championships is apparent. However, it also seems likely that for esports to catch on in myriad parts of the world, other esports may well need to come to the fore.
At the moment, the top esports games in the world are Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Dota 2, and Starcraft II. Then, Overwatch, Streetfighter V, and Hearthstone are probably on a second tier underneath the top events.
There is currently a growing movement for some of the more recognizable and widely played console games of modern times to be considered for top-tier esports events. Overwatch and StreetFighter V seem to have broken this ceiling, and it looks likely that other, newer games will be at the forefront of esports’ next leap.
If soccer teams continue to invest so heavily in esports, it could be possible for FIFA esports events to rival the likes of CS:GO, LoL, and Dota 2.
Call of Duty also now has its own World Championship event, the World League, which sees teams playing for a top prize of $200,000. That’s a considerable sum, but it is still dwarfed by the $20m+ on offer at the 2016 Dota 2 The International event and the £1m prize pools regularly available at the biggest League of Legends events.
Last weekend in the US saw the most recent round of The Madden Championship take place, with the events streamed live on the NFL Network. This is an esports event based on the famous EA Sports Madden series of American football games and sees 32 individuals battling it out for a top prize of $100,000 and a prize pool of $500,000.
This gives an insight into how esports has the potential to grow in Europe and North America, where uptake has not been quite as quick as in Asia. The fact that many more people play these console games than more traditional esports, plus the fact that they are generally easier to pick up and play, makes them valuable.
The future looks rosy
However esports grow in the next few years, whether by current games becoming more mainstream or new games accumulating new fans and sponsorships, remains unknown. Regardless, the esports juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down.
Image credit: Jeremy Tarling / Flickr.com / CC BY-SA 2.0