The scene takes place all over the houses: a child hides in his room for hours, playing League of Legends or Fortnite. Their status as a resident hermit of video games leads to repeated comments from parents. “Why are you wasting so much time on these video games?” they ask, shaking their heads. “So many hours spent in front of a screen! Why not focus on something that will truly enrich your life?”
A look at the world of esports today might surprise and comfort these puzzled parents. Far from video games, esports has become a more lucrative business.
The rise of esports is nothing new; Esports teams and tournaments have proliferated for years. More than 125 colleges currently have university sports programs. Tournaments are held all over the world, with tens of millions of dollars in prize money at stake. Esports teams have caught the attention of renowned investors from Jerry jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, at Sean combs.
The pandemic helped take things to a whole new level (no pun intended), fueling what was already a very popular hobby. Stuck at home, more and more people turned to games. Twitch (owned by Amazon) had an exceptional year, with 17 billion hours watched – up 83% from 9 billion in 2019.
Besides being a lucrative time for investors and video game makers, 2020 has also been a year that has boosted competitive gamers like never before. Kids who spent years honing their gaming skills are now proving that they can turn their talents into a career in their own right. Since the creation of a Partnership between the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and PlayVS, an online gaming network, in 2018, players were able to join the ranks of high school athletes.
Beyond high school, a whole world of esports tournaments and professional leagues awaits you. Much like traditional athletes, esports players train and can make a lot of money through cash prizes and brand sponsorships. And just like traditional sports, esports is a highly competitive field that only the best can turn into a full-time career.
But make it a full time career. Player Juan DeBiedma, known as Hungrybox, quit his full-time job to become the No. 1 world player in Super Smash Bros. melee. South Korean League of Legends champion Faker makes an estimate $ 1 to $ 2 million per year. The same dedication and training that elevates traditional athletes to the top of their game also applies to esports athletes.
However, 2020 has created a particularly interesting phenomenon for competitive players. With more people staying home and streaming than ever before, the year merged the typical gaming communities with the internet community at large. More people logging into platforms like Twitch meant a larger audience for its players, putting them in the spotlight like never before.
Will these numbers continue to increase? All indications suggest that they will. The esports industry had an estimated audience of 293 million in 2016. By the end of 2021, it is expected to reach a huge 557 million.
The growing role of esports in pop culture will shape the future of the industry over the next decade, as gaming becomes more mainstream and accessible. Besides the growth in consumption, I predict that the industry will also experience a boom in investment and sponsorship opportunities. Technology is expected to follow and we’ll likely see console updates and innovative tech gear. As more and more people see gaming as a source of income, platforms will rush to make gaming content more accessible.
That said, the industry is not without its challenges. It will be difficult to put in place a governance structure or strict regulations as there are few true national organizations. It gets even more complicated when you consider the scale of the international game.
From investors and tech companies to kids who started their love of games in their parents’ basements before stepping into the big leagues, the direction of the esports industry is clear. It’s on the rise and it can be a source of income for anyone with the vision to step up and get involved.