Looking back at the recent history of the eSports industry, it is difficult not to be impressed by its continued growth. New players are constantly being attracted to eSports as viewership numbers continue to grow, which in turn contributes to new sponsorships and increasing revenue, creating a feedback loop that now seems impossible to stop.
The statistics show that a huge number of eSports fans like to bet online too, suggesting that eSports viewers are highly invested in the results achieved by their favorite players and teams. The potential to reach this fast-growing, engaged audience is hugely attractive to brands, contributing to several large waves of investment in eSports marketing during the past five years.
What is eSports?
eSports is generally defined as professional (or semi-professional) competitive gaming in an organized format such as a tournament or league. These contests often offer enormous prizes, sometimes even dwarfing those offered in the traditional sporting world. Market analysts Newzoo recently compiled its annual eSports Review and Live Streaming Market Report, which give fascinating insights into the likely progress of the eSports industry between now and 2024.
The numbers given below refer to professional competitive gaming only, and do not include amateur competitions or livestreaming around the non-organized competitive gaming scene. The report also separates eSports enthusiasts from so-called “occasional viewers”, defining the former as people who watch professional eSports content more than once a month.
The past two years have led to a spike in viewership across all livestreaming platforms, so it is important to factor that in when analyzing numbers recorded specifically during 2020/21. The stadium format that was previously the most popular type of venue for large eSports competitions did see a correlated drop in spectator numbers during this time, however, so allowances have to be made for this fact also.
Viewership figures for the year of 2019 show that there were 200 million occasional viewers and a further 197 million eSports enthusiasts watching competitions that year, for a total audience number of 397 million. The combined audience for the year 2020 was 435.9 million, an increase of close to 10%. The growth continued apace in 2021, with a year-on-year growth figure of 8% producing a total audience of 474 million viewers.
Realizing the untapped potential of the eSports market, many brands have already made large investments into new eSports marketing strategies. This has resulted in an impressive increase to revenue during the past decade, with a year-on-year growth figure of roughly 30% each year until 2018. Things have slowed down a little since then, but this is unsurprising given that total revenue across the industry for 2019 was already 957.5 million US dollars.
There was a small dip to revenue in 2020, most likely caused by the large number of cancelled tournaments and competitions. The final figure for that year was 947.1 million US dollars, but things have already begun to turn around as 2021 showed a total yearly revenue of 1084.1 million US dollars – an increase of 14.5%. China is expected to begin contributing huge amounts to eSports revenues at some point between now and 2024, which could see an explosion in these numbers of between 20% and 35%.
The largest sources of revenue in 2021 were sponsorships (641 million US dollars), media rights ($192.6 million), and publisher fees ($126.6 million). Newzoo predicts that eSports revenues will reach 1617.7 million US dollars in 2024, assuming a compound annual growth rate of 11.1% between 2019 and 2024.
Live Streaming was not considered a primary outlet for eSports prior to 2020/21, but attitudes have changed, and eSports viewership numbers on the worlds largest streaming platforms have exploded during the past three years. The platforms differ across the world, but the biggest competitors in Europe and the United States are currently Twitch and Youtube, whilst Douyin and Huya are the two largest platforms in China.
eSports livestreaming audiences for the year 2019 and 2020 were 593.2 million and 662.7 million respectively, indicating growth of 11.7%. Analysts wondered if this growth would taper off the following year, but the most recent figures suggest a further increase of 10% for the year 2021, with a total of 728.8 million viewers.
There were 5,591 eSports tournaments held in 2019, with total prize money of $236,221,114. This gives a mean prize pool of $42,250 – a healthy number that attracted 28,336 players, with median earnings of $666.67 per player. Prize money dropped significantly the following year, however, as many tournaments were cancelled owing to world conditions. The figures for 2021 are expected to return to somewhere close to the 2019 numbers.