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eSports: A new breed of professional athlete


With more viewers than the NBA finals and revenue over USD1b we should all pay attention

Welcome to the fantastical money maker that is eSports: Video games played at competitive levels. It sounds a almost unbelievable, right? Who’s gonna pay to watch a teenager play MineCraft? Turns out more than 148 million people and by the way, that number is predicted to climb to 215 million by 2019.

According to an article published in May by CNN; last year, a single game “League of Legends” attracted 36 million paid viewers for its World Championship — that’s a bigger audience than the NBA Finals.

But if you’re wondering about the legitimacy of these gaming athletes, according to one journalist, the mental agility and physical reflexes of gamers rivals that of conventional athletes as they produce the same amount of cortisol as professional race car drivers. Their pulses can beat up to 180 beats per minute, which is the same rate as that of a marathon runner.

“The mass appeal of video games is a driving force behind eSports popularity. Just like how a baseball fan enjoys seeing the best play, a video gamer enjoys watching the best compete.”

Professional gaming is so competitive in fact that ESL, the world’s biggest eSports league, has been testing players since 2015 for performance-enhancing drugs like Adderall.

What was once seen as a hobby for grown men reliving their adolescence, is now big business where players can make seven figure salaries and are hailed as gods — you can even go to university on an eSports scholarship.

eSports marketing opportunities for brands

  • Work with micro-influencers who align with your product and brand message.
  • Stretch your marketing budget further by supporting up and coming streamers
  • Supporting a team can increase your exposure greatly. As each member of the team may be streaming individually, your brand may have multiple vehicles.

Tournaments are played to packed out arenas in front of tens of thousands of fans while simultaneously streamed through Twitch to huge paying audiences at home. We’re talking millions of paying viewers tuning in to watch these worldwide tournaments played for millions of dollars in prize money; the largest prize pool for a tournament to date was USD$24M in 2017 for the game “Dota 2”.

With that kind of money up for grabs, it’s no wonder eSports continues to grow in popularity and revenue — it’s expected the industry’s global revenue will hit more than USD$1billion by 2019. Its growth is so rapid, that it is now a legitimate competitor with conventional sports in terms of viewership and fans.

Conventional sports teams are playing catch-up and have begun investing in, sponsoring, and even creating their own eSports teams. According to a PwC’s Media Outlook report, sports have always been important in terms of driving advertising and subscriptions and it seems eSports are no different with teams backed by some major sporting organisations.

Research group Newzoo as reported by CNN, the industry “has been experiencing double digit growth for several years” thanks in part to paid subscriptions, live events and investment from third parties.

The biggest drawcard in terms of the bottom line are obviously the global tournaments held in stadiums and arenas where merchandise, food, drink, and transport to and from the venue, add additional revenue.

But then there’s all the money flowing in from the micro transactions in the form of subscriptions and donations, also known as digital gifting; it allows users to give something personal to their favourite gamer, like an emoticon or customised message.

People can also pay for special “in-game” items, interactive gaming, and passive viewing where they’re watching it for sport. Because for Gen Z, eSports IS sport and in turn, creates a lucrative opportunity for businesses. Riot Games who created one of the biggest games played in eSports, made USD$2 billion in revenue as a result.

Very few firms deal with the levels of earnings that eSports make which means a major (business and marketing) opportunity for those savvy enough to get in on the action. And if you’re now considering an alternative career path as a professional gamer: In the competitive league for the game “League of Legends”, average player salaries jumped from USD$150k in 2017 to USD$327k in 2018.

Titbits and takeaways

In 2017, the video game industry made more than twice the movie industry ($70b vs $35b) with eSports alone expected to contribute USD1.5b in 2020.

eSports can provide sponsorship and marketing opportunities for both FMCG and PS brands to target a number of demographics

There are significant consulting opportunities for professional services firms in supporting the full supply chain of the eSports industry.

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