Esports is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and it has already eclipsed several traditional sports in the popularity stakes. Its top stars are multimillionaires with huge fan bases and massive sponsorship deals, which is pretty impressive when you consider they play video games all day. Yet esports like League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 can be thrilling to watch and viewership numbers are soaring, so big companies are keen to invest in sponsorships. The juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down, and here are five mind-blowing facts that reflect its remarkable rise to prominence in recent years:
A Record-Breaking 205 Million People Tuned in to Watch the League of Legends World Championship final in 2018
That meant it had twice as many viewers as the Super Bowl, and blew big events like the US Open final and the Ryder Cup out of the water. The tournament was held in South Korea and a Chinese team, Invictus, secured a dominant victory over Fnatic in the final. Most of the viewers were based in Asia, and it will be interesting to see if the tournament grows in popularity again when it is held in Paris this year. It will be at a better time for western audiences and if it can retain its popularity in Asia then it could shatter records once again. LoL was the most watched esport in the world in 2018, according to NewZoo research, accounting for 280 million hours of streaming.
The Prize Money for The International 2018 Reached $25.5 Million
That made it the richest esports event ever and saw it leave big sporting events like the Cricket World Cup, the Super Bowl and the FedEx Cup in the shade. The International is a Dota 2 tournament hosted by the game’s developer, Valve, and it is easily the most lucrative tournament for any competitive gamers. Valve has a compendium model whereby it uses in-game loot boxes to crowdfund and a chunk of this money goes towards the prize purse for The International.
In 2014, it became the richest tournament of all time when prize money reached $10.9 million, the following year it rose to $18.4 million and The International 2016 carried prize money of $20.8 million. In 2017, it rose again to $24.7 million and it was up to $25.5 million last year. Those are the five largest overall prize pools in esports history, with the LoL World Championship 2018 sixth on $6.5 million. However, the publisher of Fortnite, Epic Games, is extremely ambitious and it is pouring $100 million in prize money into tournaments this year as it bids to make its flagship title the world’s biggest esport, so The International has competition on its hands.
The Esports Industry Will be Worth More Than $1 billion in 2019
That data once again comes from NewZoo, which specialises in gaming industry analytics. It has forecast a $1.1 billion industry this year and said that brand investments in sponsorship deals will account for 82% of the total, worth $897 million. Investment has trebled since 2015 and famous names like Intel, MasterCard, Toyota and Coca-Cola are all on board. The rest will come from merchandise, ticket sales and publisher fees.
NewZoo does not include prize pools, player salaries or capital investments in its projections, so the overall industry is worth even more. There are now 68 players that have earned more than $1 million in prize money during their careers. The highest earners are all Dota 2 stars due to the clout of The International. Leading the way is KuroKy, who captains 2017 champions Team Liquid, and he has earned $4.2 million in prize money alone. The top players all have sponsorship deals and make money through streaming content, while there are increasing numbers of full-time players signed to teams and paid regular salaries.
Betting on Esports Reached $6 billion in 2018 and That Figure is Tipped to Rise to $23.5 Billion by 2020
That means more people like to bet on video games than on several popular sports. All the leading sports betting sites have invested in esports and they offer several markets on LoL, CS:GO, Dota 2, Overwatch and Rocket League. There are also dedicated esports betting sites such as Unikrn, which cover a huge range of games, including Artifact, Call of Duty, FIFA, Fortnite, Hearthstone, King of Glory, NBA2K, PUBG, Rainbow 6, Starcraft 2, Street Fighter and Super Mario Smash Bros.
You can bet on who will win big tournaments and individual matches, plus plenty of prop bets within those matches. This all helps fuel the esports craze, as the excitement experienced when watching esports is ramped up considerably when you have money riding on the outcome. Fans love to turn their expertise into a profit, so esports wagering looks only set to soar in the years ahead.
There are now 380 Million Esports Fans Across the World
NewZoo provides those figures once more, and it predicts that the number will rise to 557 million by 2021. That will include 250 million die-hard enthusiasts and 307 million occasional viewers. Asia leads the way, but esports is also hugely popular in North America and Europe, with plenty of scope for growth in Africa and Latin America. The younger generation is driving the phenomenon, as they have grown up with computers and they can easily relate to the leading stars of the competitive gaming scene. None of this would be possible without fast internet connection and streaming services, which is why it is such a new industry. Yet its growth has been exponential since LoL and Dota 2 were launched in 2013. New games like Fortnite are capturing the public imagination and intriguing titles are being released on a constant basis, giving the esports scene a fantastic level of innovation and dynamism.
That should ensure it remains popular long into the future and traditional sports leagues could soon be well and truly overtaken. Rather than fighting the trend, most big sports franchises are simply investing in their own esports teams and that is helping to drive even more growth in the industry.