Only a decade ago, the term “Esports” was relatively unheard-of. Competitive gaming, and the community that surrounds it, has been one of the biggest break-through media success stories of the past 5 years. But how did this once small sub-culture develop into a global phenomenon projected to generate $2 billion in revenue in 2022, up 50% from 2020? The short answer is that it has finally come of age. Esports was always going to be big, following in the wake of the growing popularity and valuation of the video games industry. We live in a world now where the games industry has definitively displaced the film industry as the most valuable media market. Activision Blizzard’s immensely successful Call of Duty franchise has pulled in more money than the combined revenue generated by the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most successful and lucrative film series of all time. With the majority of the most popular games today being centered around online multiplayer experiences, an industry focused around the spectatorship of such games was always going to experience success.
Large Tournament Payouts
A clear sign of how popular competitive gaming has become can be seen in the steadily growing prize pools of its major competitions. The largest and best established Esports tournaments – such as Valve’s DOTA 2 annual world championship, The International – have posted ever larger prize pools in recent years, with 2021’s International prize pool coming in at a record breaking $40 million. If one opts to include competitive poker in this estimation, a sport that has done more than others to blur the lines between live and online play in recent years, then the largest sum to date for an Esports prize was the 2006 WSOP Main Event which awarded a share of the princely sum of $85.5 million to the victors and runners up.
Gaming Laptop Revolution
When one looks at what the most popular Esports titles being played today are, one finds two broad genres. The first among these is the MOBA game, short for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game. These typically feature 2 teams of 5 players, each battling one another for strategic control of small maps. The second is the better known FPS, or First Person Shooter game, with particularly popular examples in this genre being Fortnite, Counter Strike: GO and PUBG. The commonality between all these games is that their predominant player bases are on the PC, rather than home consoles like the PS5 or Xbox Series X/S. This fact highlights a little recognized factor that was preventing a larger uptake among gamers of competitive Esports titles, that of cost limitation.
For much of the history of PC gaming, building and maintaining a gaming computer capable of running titles on full settings without frame-rate and latency issues was an expensive prospect. This restricted competitive gaming to a core community of passionate players willing to make the investment. While computers and their components steadily decreased in price and scale over time, it wasn’t until well into the 2010s that gaming computers, and specifically gaming laptops, became affordable enough for the mainstream public to buy in. This, combined with steadily faster internet speeds across the globe, has created the ideal conditions for new gamers to flood into the sport, raising its profile and popularity.
Time to Shine
During the previous 2 years, the final piece of the puzzle arrived in the form of global circumstances that impacted the way people live, work and consume content. The widespread cancellation of live sporting events led to a vacuum that Esports was ready and willing to leap into. While this was clearly a stroke of good luck for the growing industry, and catalyzed its uptake, it’s apparent that Esports was always going to ascend to the heights it finds itself at now. While the future of the industry looks bright, the degree and extent to which Esports will inter-relate with, or even displace, elements of traditional sports coverage remains to be seen.