The world of gaming has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few decades, with advances in technology leading to increasingly realistic graphics, better overall gameplay, and the advent of online functionality. Today, the gaming industry continues to see explosive growth, and nowhere is it more evident than in the business of esports.
What once seemed like a niche is barreling towards mainstream adoption, with professional leagues bringing in millions of fans and millions of dollars from brands. Though profitability is a challenge for many businesses at the heart of the esports economy, it’s clear that professional gaming is here to stay. Here, we take a look at five key trends to monitor as we look to the future.
A Matter of When, Not If
While esports teams expect the business to fully mature somewhere between five and ten years down the line, brands and agencies are more bullish, estimating a timeline of only three to five years. Regardless of these varying opinions, one thing is clear: esports are rapidly rising and headed for the mainstream.
One need only look at the growing audience to see the potential. In its 2018 Esports Market Report, Newzoo estimates that 165 million consumers watch professional esports more than once a month, representing 15.2% year-over-year growth. Even more encouraging is that the industry transcends international borders, too, with the UK, France, Germany, and Japan experiencing even faster growth than the U.S. in terms of new fans in the last year.
Brands Making Big Bets
The global Esports Economy is expected to grow to $906 million this year – a YoY growth of 38.2%. While some of that money comes from game publisher fees, merchandise, and tickets, the vast majority comes from brands. Between sponsorship, advertising, and media rights, brands are spending $694 million in 2018, with that number projected to balloon to $1.3 billion by 2021.
The most interesting part of this? According to Nielsen, non-endemic sponsors account for 39% of those marketing dollars, implying that brands across the spectrum see the value in partnering with the growing world of esports.
Taking After Traditional Sports
Wisely taking a cue from traditional sports, the esports industry has started implementing a franchising system. Major gaming publishers like Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment are both operating the North American League of Legends Championship Series and Overwatch League in this very structure.
In the past, these leagues relegated teams that performed poorly, thus losing fanbases and existing rivalries between teams. By changing to the franchising format, the league keeps its fanbases and also allows teams to invest in their talent without fear of the team disbanding. Just like the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL, this format helps to foster longer-term investments from all parties involved, ultimately driving growth of the industry.
Media Competition is Heating Up
Though Amazon-owned Twitch remains the market-leading platform in esports, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all seeking a piece of the pie. These platforms are vying to become exclusive rights-holders for the most lucrative sections of the streaming space. So far, Twitch is experiencing the greatest success, striking big deals to host Overwatch League (through 2019) and the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League. Due to the competition between these platforms and the expected entry of telecom giants into the space, the value of streaming rights for each league will only continue to grow in the coming years.
Mobile Madness in Asia
Mobile gaming has grown to be the biggest gaming segment in terms of revenue, netting $50 billion in 2017. However, the esports scene differs by region. While it remains only a niche in the West, esports have seen explosive growth in the mobile-first culture in Asia. Similar to PC-based esports franchises, many of mobile’s competitive titles have professional leagues around them, live events in stadiums, and millions of viewers. Additionally, because mobile screens can travel anywhere, live competitions can be hosted anywhere. With that, we’re seeing games like Clash Royale organizing competitions in more casual environments such as local bars and cafes, providing a distinctly different path to growth than PCs.
For many brands and marketers, the world of esports is a great unknown. But, with a rapidly growing fanbase, it provides a great opportunity to reach younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Z. Contact us today to learn how our team can help you reach esports enthusiasts with our suite of experiential marketing services.
Sources: Newzoo 2018 Global Esports Market Report; Nielsen Sports Top 5 Industry Trends 2018