The Surging Popularity of eSports
For those of you who are unaware, eSports are competitive video game playing to a live audience. eSport competitions have also become a popular feature at gaming and multi-genre conventions. The tournament may be part of a larger gathering or the competition may be the entirety of the event.
eSports grew from what was once LAN Parties (though those still exist), where gamer players would gather, often bringing their own PCs or later, playing in computer labs and internet cafes. In the late 90s, beginning with Cyber Athlete Professional league, tournaments became much larger drawing corporate sponsorships for the first time and increasing viewership.
Flash forward to 2017 and the eSports industry has grown to nearly $700 million with an estimated global esports audience of 385 million. Due to the surging popularity of eSports events, prize pools that were once, modest sums, paid out directly from game designers, are now huge prize pools sponsored by corporations promoting energy drinks and computer software and hardware. For example, the International Dota 2 championship awards winners with nearly $20 million in prize money, attracted over 17,000 paying spectators and boasted an additional 4 billion viewers on Twitch.
Live streaming, such as the aforementioned Twitch and Youtube, has allowed the eSports industry to widen the audience, gain momentum with millions of fans, spectators, and players. The popular sites are filled with gaming vlogs and have created vlogging celebrities to be born, most popular among these, PewDiePie. PewdiePie has 40 million subscribers and 10 billion clip views and makes nearly $10 million a year in ad revenue from these videos. He signed to a studio in 2012 to help produce and market his videos. That studio, Maker Studios, sold itself last year to Disney for about $1 billion.
According to a recent Forbes article, one of the biggest challenges remains finding out successful methods to monetize the rapidly expanding industry. One of the many startups taking advantage of the popularity of eSports, FanAI Inc., has created an "artificial intelligence (AI) driven audience monetization platform by collecting fan data owned by the rights holders and data available on various social and streaming platforms, as well as data repository services and payment data, and enriching it to build brand-specific personas and archetypes to predict behavior....There is clear interest in the startup. FanAI will soon announce that it has closed a Series Seed round, led by Courtside Ventures, for a total of $1.8 million."
eSports is clearly becoming a phenomenon, investors and companies cannot ignore. The surging popularity of eSports offers lucrative opportunities for vloggers, established brands, startups, investors and encourages increased participation in esports.