You may have seen the recent news that eSports is set to be a medal event at 2022 Asian Games, to be held in Hangzhou, China. This is a huge decision as the Asian games are the second largest multi-sport competition after the Olympics. In reality, this decision means that eSports is just one stop short of becoming a fully recognised Olympic Games sport.
eSports, defined “as form of competition that is facilitated by electronic systems” is expected to generate £539 million this year alone globally, growth of 41%, according to Newzoo. In terms of audience, it also estimates this to be 385 million people, broken down by 191 million enthusiasts and 194 million occasional viewers
Meanwhile, in tandem with this growth, has also been increasing acceptance of eSports as a legitimate sport. This is highlighted by a number of high profile moves including:
- Universities: The University of Utah announced it is set to award scholarships to players who make the university’s eSports team, which, according to The Guardian “is said to be the first scholarship program for competitive gaming for a school in one of the NCAA’s five major conferences.”
- Bookies: British bookmaker William Hill is now taking bets on the sport.
- Facilities: MGM Las Vegas are creating a multi-story eSports facility.
- Traditional Broadcasters: While only streaming site Twitch has traditionally been the number one outlet for viewing eSports, traditional broadcasters are now jumping on board. ESPN has launched a dedicated eSports channel, while in the UK BT has committed to showing FIFA tournaments. In fact, it is estimated that eSports content licenses are expected to hit £73 million this year on a global scale, up by 82% from last year.
- Brands: A wide variety of brands have already jumped into this space including Coca Cola, Red Bull and Duracell. These types of partnerships can be short sharp campaigns, while other brands will actually sponsor eSport teams or individual players, such as Red Bull sponsoring player Soren Bjerg.
- Football Teams: An increasing number of football teams are also partnering with eSport players to use as brand ambassadors, such as Manchester City signing up Kieran Brown to become their first eSports player last year. Other clubs include Manchester United, West Ham, Wolfsburg and Paris Saint-Germain.
Why Such Growth & Why Might The Olympics Include eSports In Future Games?
Its growth is plainly down to the audience it is catering to. As mentioned within an AdAge piece on the rise of eSports, brands can increasingly reach men aged between 21-35, who are increasingly hard to reach by traditional advertising methods. For example, as I mentioned within a previous blog post of Liverpool’s groundbreaking deal with Avon, look at services like Loot Crate which have risen sharply in popularity. It “provides monthly boxes of geek and gaming related merchandise”, while retailer Gamestop generated at minium $200 million in revenue in 2015 from this stream (read a great story from MCV here for more background).
As eSports is expected to reach £1.15 billion by 2020, its inclusion in the Asian Games in 2022 taps into this gold rush but also offers a testing ground for it to be included in the actual Olympic Games in future. Meanwhile, Chester King, the founder and acting chief executive of the British eSports Association (BEA) recently revealed he is meeting the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to lobby for eSports to become a fully recognised Olympic sport.
Given that legendary gaming label Atari held what is recognised as the first large scale video game competition, the Space Invaders Tournament, in 1980 (which actually attracted 10,000 players), eSports’ explosive growth in both monetary terms and also credibility-wise is truly incredible.
However, will we see it become an Olympic sport?
Given the money on offer, its burgeoning popularity amongst young people, really, in my mind, it is only a matter of time.