Esports has risen out of player’s bedrooms and away from its Warcraft modding roots to become a global juggernaut.
According to recent reports, there will be 454 million esports participants worldwide by the end of 2019. This is expected to rise to 645 million by 2020, with total revenues reaching US$3.2 billion.
Part of this sudden surge in esports popularity is because it taps into an audience of nearly 2.2-billion people who regularly play video games and supplements that create a huge group along with Twitch streaming fans and fans of regular sporting events.
At an uncertain economic time for the UK, the lure of this lucrative market is very strong, and the grassroots foundations are already there. The UK is the world’s fifth-biggest market for games purchases and already has an esports advocacy group in the form of the British Esports Association.
The aim of UK grassroots Esports organisations is to build the UK, and more specifically London, into a centre for Esports that rivals Seoul or Las Vegas.
This would mean building the stadiums, events, huge volumes of Twitch followers, and TV viewing packages that draw the attention of the pillars of the Esports community, the global fan base, team sponsors, and companies offering odds on who will win Esports’ major competitions.
The Rise of Esports
One of esports biggest draws are the games League of Legends (LOL) and Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) both of which were initially based on mods for the video game Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, made by Blizzard Entertainment, in around 2003.
From those humble beginnings, these titans of the esports scene have risen to a dominant position, displacing older favourites like Starcraft and seeing off challenges from the rising popularity of virtual version of actual sports, like FIFA’s ePremier League Competition.
DOTA and LOL tournaments now regularly fill stadiums with tens of thousands of fans, some in full cosplay, and prize pools can regularly top out at around US$300,000.
Most of the esports viewership remains online though, with streaming giant Twitch offering massive coverage of esports events on over 27,000 Twitch partner channels to its 5-million daily active users and 1-million average concurrent users.
At a time when traditional sources of entertainment such as cinemas are pushing to keep viewership up with stunts like putting on 3D films in a safari park, the console and PC game industry is going from strength to strength and streaming is overtaking traditional television as the world’s primary source of entertainment.
This has created a market ready to be disrupted by new forms of entertainment like esports.
The UK Looks to Lead
Interest in investing in esports in the UK is already high. Competitions are already being held that are on a scale as large as any found in other countries, even world esports leaders such as the US and South Korea.
The ESL One Birmingham 2019 event attracted more than 13 million viewers across multiple streaming platforms and had a hefty prize pot of US$300,000.
The Premier League, arguably the largest and most well-recognised footballing league in the world has already demonstrated its commitment to footballing esports, creating the ePremier League.
This competition was supported by all 20 Premier League clubs and featured playoff rounds and grand finals for both Playstation and Xbox that were broadcast live on Sky Sports, attracting 9.63 million viewers.
The financial support is also there, with London-based Hiro Capital launching a €100 million to support UK-based leaders in digital sports.
British esports firm Gfinity is already reaping the benefits of this growing interest in the UK as a hub for global esports, bringing in £7.9m in investment over 2019 and announcing that it would provide coverage and a connected reality series focusing on the newly announced F1 esports racing competition.
With the market already in place, support from established sporting leagues with global reach and the financial backing of investment capital firms, the UK looks set to capitalise on the growing passion for esports by placing itself as a leader in this new and growing form of entertainment.