By Julian Young — Special to AYBOnline.com
The growth of eSports has progressed along a strange trajectory for several years now.
At first, the whole concept seemed strange to a lot of people. Many scoffed at the notion that video games could fit under the “sports” umbrella, and much more assumed that if anything eSports constituted a sort of cult hobby rather than a major movement. Then, for the better part of a few years, we were continually stunned by the numbers the sport began to generate, both in viewership and in prize money. And now we’re so used to the idea that eSports have become a major phenomenon that it’s almost easy to overlook similarly incredible numbers. In short, the whole concept went from being underappreciated to becoming commonplace.
As to how much eSports has actually grown, it’s difficult to say in any kind of blanket statement. However, overall estimations paint the picture of something that’s legitimately become a major sport — but may be getting close to its ceiling.
For some, the money being thrown around in major eSports tournaments pretty much tells the whole story. Looking at the largest prize pools in one recent write-up, it’s clear that the top 23 events all have pots at or exceeding $1 million, with the top two at $18.4 and $10.9 million respectively. These events occur as parts of different leagues and tournaments, in different countries, and involving a range of games. Just for reference, the 2016 Masters — arguably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world — had a total prize pool of $10 million. That would have been the third highest paying event in eSports.
If your preferred metric of the size of eSports is viewership, rather than the amount of money in various prize pools, there are also some pretty staggering numbers. You’ve likely heard over the years about eSports events outperforming (or at least performing similarly to) major sports competitions. For instance, in 2014 there were some pretty stunning viewership statistics indicating that more people had watched the League Of Legends world championship (27 million) than had tuned in for individual games of the NBA Finals or World Series — or even the World Cup final, at least in the U.S. But while comparisons like these make for gaudy headlines, the more important number is far greater than 27 million. It’s recently been estimated that over 70 million people worldwide watch eSports in general, without looking at specific contests or championships. That’s a massive figure that certainly puts eSports in the “major
sport” category, at least in terms of fan enthusiasm.
Even with all of these impressive numbers, however, there are also some indications that the growth of eSports may finally be slowing down. The market is expected to reach $1 billion in value sometime next year – but is only projected to reach $1.23 billion by 2019. That’s a hard number for eSports advocates to complain about, but as massive as it is, it still shows projections plateauing a little bit. In large part, this is due to the fact that the sport has reached a size at which it’s relying on marketing and advertisements to continue to expand, and there appears to be something of a disconnect between traditional media standards and the accurate representation of eSports. That’s a problem that could well be solved in the coming years, but for now it may keep eSports under a certain ceiling of just over $1 billion in market value.
Regardless of what the next few years hold, it’s clear that eSports is still growing, and has already reached heights many thought were impossible.
Julian Young is a freelance writer and this article is a guest post.