Esports has become a global phenomenon that attracts thousands of spectators to tournaments held in arenas all around the world with millions in prize money up for grabs. With competitive gaming on the rise and more and more companies investing in the genre, it has been predicted that the esports industry will exceed $1 billion in global revenue by the year 2020. This begs the question: What’s the real difference between esports and traditional sports?
Recognition as an official sport
Esports tournaments have become so popular in recent years that viewership is beginning to rival traditional sports. Far from its humble beginnings, esports is rapidly growing into a billion-dollar industry and is starting to get recognised as an official sport, as evidenced by the number of mainstream bookmakers that are now offering odds on the biggest tournaments.
Over the last few years, esports has really started to make a name for itself and has even begun competing with traditional sports viewership. For example, League of Legends is the most-watched game on Twitch and YouTube, and the 2018 world championship finals for League of Legends had 99.6 million viewers online, whereas the 2019 Super Bowl had 98.2 million viewers on television. Even ESPN, the largest sports broadcaster in the world, has started showing esports events alongside traditional sports programming and have even started hosting their own esports tournaments. In September 2018 popular Twitch streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins became the first-ever professional esports player to be featured on the cover of ESPN magazine.
Esports at the Olympics?
The esports industry has become so lucrative that even the Olympics has shown interest in it, and by the looks of it, they are seriously considering a collaboration in the future. It’s possible that we could see esports being incorporated into the Olympic games as early as 2024 or 2028.
Last year it was reported that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Global Association of International Sports Federations held an esports forum in Switzerland where they discussed the possibility of including esports as an Olympic medal event. In addition to this, esports will be an official medal event at the 2022 Asian Games in China, which is a positive step towards esports’ being acknowledged as a real “sport.”
Are esports set to overtake traditional sports?
Traditional sporting events have seen a steady decline in viewership in the last few years, whereas esports viewership is growing rapidly. At the present moment, esports has a global audience of 385 million, which is up from 200 million in 2015. Reports have projected that by 2020 esports viewership will reach 500 million and will overtake the NBA, which currently has 400 million fans.
The 2019 NBA finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors saw a sharp decline in ratings. With NBA viewership dropping, the league is exploring other ways to increase revenues. In 2018 the NBA launched their own NBA 2K league, making them the very first professional sports organisation in the United States to have their very own esports league. If we continue to see more professional leagues like the NBA capitalising on the popularity of esports to grow their audience, then we have no doubt that esports’ viewership will eclipse traditional sports in the years to come.
Despite the meteoric rise of esports and the investment in the genre by some of the world’s major networks and sports teams, there are many who refuse to recognise the esports genre as “sport,” as it lacks the physicality and endurance required of “real” sports.
While many will dispute its status as an official sport, esports certainly looks, feels and acts like any other traditional sport. Tournaments are held in massive arenas, drawing large crowds numbering in the thousands and an even larger audience that is spectating the events from streaming platforms.
To sum up
When you take into account the trajectory of esports’ growth in the last few years as compared to traditional sports, the evidence suggests that esports will overtake traditional sports in terms of popularity and viewership. The only thing holding back esports from being recognised as official “sports” is public perception.