Few industries have managed to match the growth of esports in recent years. According to figures released by Statistica, revenues from competitive gaming grew from $130 million in 2012 to a projected $906 million in 2018.
What’s truly remarkable is the fact that this figure is expected to continue its dramatic upward trajectory to hit a very impressive $1,650 million in 2021. Such figures clearly show that esports is much more than a passing fad, but despite this, there are many commentators and investors who will be concerned that the growth of esports could level off in the coming years.
Recently we have seen many of the largest names in esports making shock moves to axes certain teams and tournaments that we felt to be underperforming. The famous esports team, Optic Gaming, made a touch decision when they dropped their strong Halo Squad in March 2018 despite the side having won the Halo World Championships the previous year.
In addition to this, the massive games developer, Blizzard Entertainment, made the hugely controversial move to axe their esports tournaments for the game, Heroes of the Storm. This instantly killed the careers of many pro gamers who had invested plenty of time in sharpening their skills on the online battle arena title.
But one of the biggest threats to the growth of esports can be government regulation. Late last year, we saw the Chinese government making a dramatic crackdown on esports titles that were felt to be featuring themes that didn’t pass certain social and ethical rules. As a result, we saw many of the most profitable esports such as League of Legends, Fortnite and Overwatch receiving bans and cautionary notes as a result of the games including everything from too much blood and gore, to portraying female characters in overly revealing costumes.
When you couple this up with the fact that the International Olympics Committee are still extremely hesitant to include esports as a demonstration sport, it seems that many governing bodies still have a massive problem with competitive gaming.
Much of this tends to be derived from the fact that many top esports like Counter Strike Global Offensive feature very violent gameplay. This means that the industry could be seen to be promoting ethics that fail to comply with family-friendly themes, and so it could be tricky to see how esports could truly break through into the mainstream.
So is the esports industry at risk of staying a niche activity? Whilst the competitive gaming phenomenon might be having a very tough time in terms of being perceived as a traditional sport, it seems that many of the key players in the industry appear to have little problem with this perception.
Blizzard Entertainment are one of the most successful gaming brands, and their Overwatch League is one of the big hits in the esports world. By cleverly mirroring the league format of traditional sporting events such as the NFL, they have managed to provide a much greater level of stability in esports, and there are now even sites like that allow fans to place a bet on the gameplay in the knowledge that all of the matches are fair and properly regulated.
Whilst many in the esports industry are still holding out for inclusion from the International Olympics Committee, there is growing talk that there could be a rival event that is specifically made for esports. Certainly, the huge numbers of people who watch esports have little concern about the fact that the activity might not be considered to be a proper sport.
When you think that 200 million people watched the League of Legends World Championship in 2018, compared to a measly 103.4 million for the 2018 Super Bowl, it shows that there’s no lack of love for esports.
Above all, it’s the fact that the majority of esports fans are young that gives the industry the greatest amount of hope. Whilst traditional sports such as rugby and cricket are suffering from dwindling attendances, it seems that young people just can’t get enough of esports. And whilst its growth might occasionally be shaky, we can expect big things from the competitive gaming phenomenon.