Us millennials sure love to ruin everything, don’t we? First we came in with participation trophies, we moved on to tank the economy, and now we have come for sports!
*Queue diabolical laughter*
According to this Reuter’s article, global esports revenues will rise above one billion dollars by the end of 2019. Yes, that’s a billion with a “B” and that represents an annual increase of 27 percent. While it still may not be advisable to raise your children to be an esports athlete; the industry is growing at an exceptional rate. As it turns out, fun has turned into serious business.
Similarly to millions of other kids growing up, I would come home from school sit down and turn on my Xbox to play Halo 2. In my early teens, I would stay up all night playing competitive online tournaments on the weekends and during summers. The advent of online gaming in the late 90s and early 2000s exposed millions of people just like me to competitive gaming. I remember being ecstatic in a car ride home having won a full year of Xbox live at a local game store. As a pre-teen saving $60 was enough to make me feel like the greatest player of all time. Meanwhile, this year in July a sixteen year old made over $3 million winning an online tournament for the smash hit Fortnite.
There seems to be a rather noticeable generational divide when it comes to esports. The majority of US viewership ranges between the ages of 18 and 34. Just like when my grandparents told me that the iPhone would never take off because “who needs a camera in their pocket?” this trend is not necessarily intuitive but inevitable. Just as civilizations have moved away from blood sports like the Mesoamerican ball game, or the roman gladiatorial events, people are moving away more and more from what we see as traditional sports.
But why would anyone want to watch other people play video games? This question is echoed across the internet in message boards and on popular television shows. Just as a fifteen-year-old may not understand the nuances of play calling in an NFL game, my dad certainly has no clue about the nuances of sideboarding in a competitive Magic the Gathering (or MTG) event. My true esports love is watching competitive MTG because I can watch and see how the pros navigate complex game states. It is akin to getting free advice on how to improve your swing from Tiger Woods when you sit down and watch Luis Scott Vargas play matches on Twitch. Critically, esports has two advantages that traditional sports will never be able to touch—evolution and variety.
Every year Activision releases a new Call of Duty, Epic Games constantly introduces new weapons and cosmetics into Fortnite, Wizards of the Coast add new cards to MTG, Blizzard adds new characters to Overwatch, and Valve introduces new heroes into Dota 2. In order to keep gamers invested in their games, these companies constantly pump out updates to their game that introduce new cosmetic and gameplay experiences. If you are a consumer, you can simply watch the pros play the new content to verify if it looks like something you are interested in.
But variety is the spice of life. When our marketing team approached me, my brain immediately went to a few specific places. My instant reaction was to talk about first person shooters and collectible card games. While many friends of mine jump to talk about real time strategy games, sports games, fighting games, and mobas (multiplayer online battle arenas). You will never catch me watching the DOTA International, but I anticipate watching MPL Weekly. And that is the piece of the puzzle that is missing in the minds of people that are not already invested in the esports ecosystem. Regardless of the kind of “gamer” you are, there is an esports league with compelling content for you.
At the end of the day, regardless of whatever preconceived notions that you have about esports; you would be wise to not ignore this industry. Parents in the 80s that bought Atari and Nintendo for their kids probably never dreamed that the gaming industry would grow to a multi-billion-dollar global industry. Don’t be caught behind the curve thinking that esports will never be as big as traditional sports.