Esports Are Taking Over Traditional Sports

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and his Twitch gaming streams are spoken about by youngsters as if he were LeBron James or Tom Brady. They scrutinize every move the 26-year-old makes in the battle royale game “Fortnite.” They make reference to his kill percentages and statistics rather than NBA or NFL stats. They try to imitate his methods and actions in order to become competitive players. 


According to Activate, a technology consulting organization, more than 250 million people watch esports, also known as electronic sports or professional gaming, and the majority of them also participate. Blevins’ popularity catapulted him to the cover of ESPN The Magazine, where he was dubbed “gaming’s first crossover celebrity.” During contests, he draws an average of more than 72,000 viewers, has access to more than 12 million followers, and earns over $300,000 per month in streaming income. 


By 2021, Activate predicts that esports will have more viewers in the United States than any other professional sports league save the NFL. They estimate that 84 million people will watch esports, which is greater than the 79 million MLB fans and the 63 million NBA fans. The 141 million NFL watchers still outnumber this.

How does Esports get Views?

Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming service that bills itself as “the world’s premier social video platform and community for gamers,” is at the forefront of reaching those billions of people. Unlike other video services, such as YouTube, which focuses on content creators posting videos for viewers to watch, Twitch was designed specifically for live streaming. In real-time, viewers may engage with the streamer. 


According to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon paid about $1 billion for Twitch in 2014. It was one of the greatest purchases for the internet and e-commerce behemoth at the time. And it was a safe bet: Twitch was averaging just under 600,000 concurrent viewers in September 2015. SullyGnome.com, an unofficial Twitch statistics and analytics site, estimates that the number of Twitch watchers is close to 1.2 million three years later. 


For everyone concerned, it’s a significant deal. The streaming sector, which includes esports and other broadcasts, was valued at $10.1 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to $13.1 billion in 2019. Streamers compete for sponsors and subscribers, with the latter providing funding in the form of contributions and tips. According to estimations, it will be comparable to Netflix, which reported over $11 billion in revenue in 2017 during its fourth quarter results call.

How does Esports get an Audience?

Game creators and esports broadcasters are competing with marketers of “conventional” sports for the same coveted demographic of 18 to 34-year-olds, who account for 73% of esports viewers. 


They have a rapidly expanding global market. According to Activate, there were 270 million esports enthusiasts worldwide in 2016, with that number expected to rise to 495 million by 2020. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a tabular representation of esports worldwide fan growth. 


Game makers are taking cues from the sports sector to target this demographic. They’re forming competitive leagues that fans can cheer for, such as the Blizzard-owned Overwatch league. ESPN announced in July that Disney has reached an agreement with Blizzard Entertainment to bring the league to ESPN and ABC.


Other companies are putting a lot of money into huge events like The International, a yearly esports championship for Valve Corporation’s “Dota 2.” The prize pool for The International in 2018 was $25.5 million. In 2018, the U.S. Open had the biggest purse on the PGA Tour, with a prize pool of $12 million.


Esports are a competitive threat to existing sports leagues, but they also may be complementary. The NBA announced last year that it will be the first major sports league to launch an esports partnership: the NBA 2K League, in collaboration with Take-Two Interactive Software, the NBA 2K series’ developer. The NBA 2K League will expand to four teams for its second season.


Over the next few years, we will really be able to see the growth of esports and how they can take over the sporting world. The NFL will always be king but esports are very close to getting to that level.

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