Competitive gaming was dismissed by many as a form of childish, light-minded fun despite the millions of dollars pumped into it by a variety of sponsors – even big names like Intel, Coca-Cola, and Mercedes. Let’s see some numbers: the most popular eSports last year generated revenues of around $950 million and attracted a total audience of close to 500 million – about 220 million of them were “enthusiasts” or people who watch eSports content more than once a month.
And 2020 will be an even greater year for eSports, probably surpassing the $1 billion prediction made by Newzoo earlier in the year – here’s why.
With pretty much all sports around the globe shut down by the ongoing pandemic, sports TV channels have found themselves with nothing to broadcast. The major events scheduled to be covered in March simply haven’t taken place, and pretty much every major sporting event – from the UEFA European Championship to the Summer Olympics – was postponed. With none of their regular content to show, some sports channels have turned to alternative programming – and sometimes, “alternative” meant “virtual”.
American sports channel Fox News has made eSports history on March 29 with its eNASCAR virtual race broadcast – it attracted more than 1.3 million live viewers. While it’s still far behind traditional NASCAR when it comes to viewership (the real thing attracts around 3.6 million viewers) it is an absolute record for eSports coverage on broadcast TV. The channel keeps experimenting with other sports’ virtual versions, too – on the same day, it also broadcast a Madden NFL invitational.
ITV, the British TV channel that traditionally broadcasts the Grand National, England’s biggest horse racing event, has replaced it with a virtual race. The real Grand National was seen by about 10 million people on TV – but the virtual version also attracted about 5 million, the statistics show.
Filling the void
While there are more than enough sports fans for whom the virtual version is simply not good enough, there are also many who will have their itches scratched by eSports this year. After all, pretty much all stadiums around the world are deserted, and people looking for competition – as opposed to a specific sport or a specific team – can find what they are looking for, maybe not on broadcast TV but on channels like YouTube or Twitch. eSports were not relying on traditional broadcasts anyway, and neither on live audiences – the vast majority of the viewers are online.
The ongoing pandemic has confined people to their homes and deprived them of their favourite pastimes (live sports, that is), and this new situation is already showing if you look at the eSports viewership numbers – Gen.G cofounder Kent Wakeford revealed to the Washington Post of an almost 19% hike in the Chinese viewership over January and February (the time when Wuhan was under strict quarantine), and the ESL Pro League also saw an almost 30% growth of viewers compared to last year.
If things don’t change soon – and they don’t seem to – this year will indeed be a great year for eSports, even without the usual high-profile live events.