5 Predictions On the Future of Esports
From the niche hobby of nerds to an international sensation with millions of rabid fans, esports has come a long way in the last few years. Experts predict the industry will continue its meteoric rise, but what will that rise look like, and how will the various players within esports — sponsors, supporters, companies, players, and the rest — respond?
Keep pace with the future of esports by watching for these five predictions to come true.
- Esports will earn its title as a true sport.
Esports players are fighting the same battle that cheerleaders and racecar drivers have fought for years. Asking whether esports counts as a sport is like telling a pilot he’s not really flying because he’s not flapping his wings in the open air. Elite esports stars are competitors of the highest caliber, deserving of the same respect audiences give to celebrities in other sports.
It will take some time before this view becomes popular, but in the new digital era, the definition of “sport” cannot limit itself to humans performing tests of physical strength. As the world evolves, the masses must challenge the preconceived notion that gaming is a directionless pursuit and start encouraging competitive young gamers the same way they do young basketball players and sprinters. Perhaps when esports finally becomes an Olympic event, global acknowledgment will accelerate.
- Investment will continue to soar.
Investors love thriving industries, and esports looks like a sure bet. Esports revenue projects to approach $3 billion by 2022, up from $869 million in 2018. Right now, sponsorships account for the largest chunk of revenue, with advertising a distant second.
The future of esports investing doesn’t stop with the teams and competitions, though. Plenty of ancillary businesses must rise up to fulfill the needs of all the stakeholders in the industry. As esports grows, companies must handle merchandising, marketing, training, advocacy, legal work, and all manner of other demands. All those niches will generate tons of revenue for savvy companies. Investors want to get in on the action, which means money will continue to flow into esports for the foreseeable future.
- Viewership numbers will join the ranks of the elite.
No entertainment industry can last for long without viewers. Fortunately for esports fans, plenty of people are eager to consume gaming content. Esports awareness has grown to around 1.5 billion people around the world. Of those, 307 million will be active esports fans by 2021. Not bad for an industry that’s just getting started.
Young people especially love esports and gaming. According to research from Hootsuite and We Are Social, 32% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 have recently watched an esports tournament. That’s slightly higher than the percentage of people in the same age group interested in watching conventional sports (31%). Maybe that’s why Activate predicts that esports will surpass every sports league in America except the NFL in viewership by 2021.
- Gambling will play a big role in esports popularity.
Right now, the biggest money in esports isn’t in competition but in the gambling that goes on within games and around competitors. All sports attract a gambling crowd, and esports gambling options have made it easy to anyone to wager on the fun. Americans can place vets at Nevada sportsbooks and, as of November 2019, in New Jersey.
According to The Lines, esports gambling in 2016 had reached around $5.5 billion. By 2020, that figure will swell to nearly $13 billion — a rate that could see gambling revenues outpace the growth of esports competition itself. Both markets continue to scale quickly, and as gamblers become esports fans (and vice-versa), each side will feed the other.
- The generation after Gen Z will throw gasoline on the fire.
Millennials grew up during the wars between Nintendo and Sega, rocking black-and-white Game Boys that were the size of bricks. Gen Z caught the gaming craze before smartphones fully took hold, then embraced mobile gaming from Angry Birds to Fortnite. Millennials now have children in school, and as the youngest generation grows up, they will never know a world where esports is not a serious career path for professional gamers.
Just as kids in the 90s and 2000s dreamed of playing in the NFL or NBA, kids born in the 2010s and 2020s will aspire to be professional esports competitors. Not many of them will make the cut, but a massive segment of the youngest demographic will eagerly tune in to catch the latest esports news, competitions, and player updates. When that happens, esports will truly realize its potential as a global sport.
Even the biggest critics of esports cannot deny the industry’s momentum. Gaming has evolved from a siloed pastime into a new kind of social network, shared by everyone and led by the best of the best in gaming. Over the next decade, esports will become something the gamers of the past could not have imagined in their wildest dreams.