eSports is an emerging industry, boasting an audience size which has seen double digit growth over the past five years and captures the attention of more spectators than an NBA final.
With each passing year, the eSports industry has not only experienced exponential growth in terms of audience, but also in terms of capital. Back in 2015, business strategist Michael Wolf, reported that a professional video game league in the US could become a $1 billion industry by 2018 and the eSports industry as a whole could be estimated at $4 billion. As a comparison, the National Hockey League in the US brings in revenues of $3.8 billion.
Given the size of the audience, which has grown by 88 million in two years alone, and has a core set of 191 million fans, otherwise referred to as ‘enthusiasts’ who actively digest hours and hours of eSports every week, it’s no wonder that football clubs including Manchester United, West Ham, Wolfsburg and Paris Saint- Germain are all looking to get a cut of the action.
These household names envy eSports’ potential in capturing the hold of millennial’s attention - an increasingly difficult thing to do which is already making ripples across the sports industry. Take for example, the NBA announcing in early 2017 that they would revisit a decision to decrease game times due to a fall in viewership. While on the other hand, eSports’ viewership continues to rise with a vigorous force. To put this into perspective, when we compare the numbers of people tuning in for some of the most watched events on television in 2016, including the Oscars - 32.9 million, the NBA final - 30.8 million - these numbers are overshadowed by the 36 million people tuning in to watch a eSports’ League of Legends final.
“There’s a domino effect, where some sport club sees their competitors coming into the space and they start to further analyse ‘this is a young demographic, this is how we’re gonna make money one day’” notes Fnatic’s Chief Gaming Officer, Patrik Sättermon.
Football clubs have made no effort to hide their intentions, the investments allows them to tap into a previously unobtainable audience - but what will happen if they are met with disinterest by these enthusiasts?
Patrick Nally, the Founding Father of Modern Sports Marketing is skeptical to the sudden surge of investment, warning that “there is a danger that football clubs are trying to latch onto a market, and that market does not want to latched onto… the eSports community doesn’t want to have this sort of big corporate sponsorship that’s in other sports”.
In order to enable the relationship to be mutually beneficially, investors must be able to compromise and allow a certain degree of independence for the industry to maintain it’s own sense of identity. This is the only way to reap the rewards of this blossoming gold mine.
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