Right now, eSports is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. In just a few short years, we have gone from holding the biggest events in a tiny booth at Gamescom to selling out 45,000 seat football stadiums in a matter of minutes. Prize pools have increased to unimaginable sizes, major companies such as Samsung and HTC have come in as sponsors, and ESPN have even broadcast multiple eSports events over the last year. But where do we go from here?
eSports on the whole shows no sign of slowing down. Almost all of the major eSport games are still seeing growth in player numbers, and with the annualised franchise such as Call of Duty and FIFA about to receive their yearly instalments, numbers will be boosted even more. Combine that with games that are trying to position themselves as eSports platforms, such as the recently-released Rocket League and the upcoming Rainbow Six: Siege and it seems inevitable that the amount of people taking part in competitive gaming will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
If more people start to play these games, then they are also more likely to watch top level competition. Over the last 12 months, viewing figures have skyrocketed. Last month's ESL One Cologne was the most-viewed Counter-Strike tournament ever with over 27 million unique viewers—a rise of 30% compared to the previous ESL One event. Obviously, more people watching these events is a good thing as it will entice more sponsors to pump more money into eSports to continue the growth of the sector.
So with player and viewer numbers on the rise, eSports starts to become a good prospect for advertisers. eSports manages to capture the young male market and keep them engaged for hours at a time, and therefore becomes an advertising goldmine for certain brands. Companies such as RedBull and Monster Energy have both invested heavily in eSports due to the fairly young audience and have become big names in the eSports scene, even hosting their own tournaments. A recent report from Newzoo estimates that by 2018, online advertising revenues in eSports will top $337million, over double what is expected this year.
With more money comes more mainstream interest and coverage of eSports. With the likes of ESPN hiring an eSports editor and Swedish TV network MTG purchasing ESL, it would not be surprising to see a dedicated eSports TV channel in multiple countries within the next few years. Once that happens, eSports will well and truly explode. Right now, it feels like eSports needs that one big landmark moment where the entire world notices in order to advance to the next level, and that could easily come in the form of eSports TV stations. Regular TV coverage will bring in thousands, if not millions, of extra viewers which again will boost the revenues and prize pools.
On the actual events side of things, this year has been a bit of an anomaly in terms of event growth. Online viewer figures have grown rapidly, yet many events are seeing reduced or stagnant footfall due to the venue choices. The International was held at the Key Arena again this year despite selling out within minutes in 2014, leaving many fans disappointed. A more extreme case is the League of Legends World Championships Final. Last year it was held in the 45,000 seater World Cup stadium in Seoul; this year it is set to take place in a 17,000 seat arena in Germany, which let's not forget has tons of world-class football stadiums. The choices of venue seem perplexing. Why you would book a smaller venue for an event that consistently sells out is a strange choice to say the least. If eSports wants to grow significantly, the venue sizes need to increase. Having a massive event in a stadium at least once a month is undoubtedly where eSports are heading, but the companies behind the events need to be willing to pull the trigger sooner.
eSports is in a great place; almost every aspect of the scene is growing and more and more major companies are starting to realize its potential. We are just a few years away from eSports being a regular feature on television and regularly selling out sports stadiums, but right now, things don't quite feel like they are progressing as quickly as they could. What is needed is one landmark moment where almost all of mainstream can take notice and cover it. But even if that doesn't happen any time soon, eSports will continue to grow at a rapid pace and could quickly become as big as any traditional sport.