The rapid growth of esports is perhaps one of the most interesting phenomena about the modern media landscape. Ignoring the usual diatribe of “why are people watching other people play games” (spoiler: it’s the same reason you’re watching someone else play football or basketball), the eyeballs attracted by esports events alongside the revenue both from the broadcasting and the game developer side are on the uptick, not to mention the incredible sums of money poured into teams by various venture capital groups, which have completely upended the landscape and the possibilities in the world of video games.
Time never stops marching, and in the case of esports, this is evidenced by non-stop positive demographic change. Generation Z will be the first growing up who won’t be looked at weirdly when they’re caught playing games on their phone or their tablet, and video games as a whole are rapidly becoming a part of everyday life around us. It goes without saying that the same is happening with competitive gaming and esports as well, and it’s less and less unexpected to see someone cheer on Fnatic instead of a Manchester United or a Los Angeles Lakers. From a financial standpoint, there’s also a clear benefit over time as more and more fans enter adulthood and gain further money to spend on their interests – like supporting their favorite team or investing in a few skins in the game they spend the most time with on quiet afternoons. Maybe they’ll also go and buy a ticket for a LAN event, similarly to how you’d go and watch a Champions League match if the circumstances are right. Larger events and esports enterprises like The International, the inaugural Fortnite World Cup or the eye-popping money flowing into the Overwatch League have all attracted mainstream media attention and coverage as well, further fueling the growth of the scene over time.
There’s also the positive effect of esports betting to consider when it comes to the question of the development of this niche. Say what you will about the gambling aspect of it all, a well-regulated betting environment has proven beneficial to every sports market you can think of, regardless of geographic location or gameplay specifics. Just look at how much interest and sponsorship money it generates across the globe for traditional sports like football, basketball or hockey! While the esports betting scene is still in its infancy, they’re already one of the prime sponsors of top-tier competitive events for many titles – again, just like how it’s the case with traditional sports –, and the stability and prestige provided by the involvement of well-known names in the industry like Betway and bet365 or Pinnacle will only push this process further.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that since esports are no longer just an oddity or an afterthought, developers are increasingly putting in more effort into the quality and sustainability of their games’ esports scenes. Even if it’s “only” a glorified marketing arm from their side, it’s a heck of a promotional tool, and the more seriously it can be taken, the better it is for everyone. Returning to our previous sports analogy, name a better way to make a lifetime player and fan than by having a team play your game which they’re already committed to! The big game developers like Valve, Riot Games, Blizzard and many others have already figured this one out, and there’s likely more and more companies on the market following their lead to take their slice of the ever-growing esports pie.
That’s not to say there aren’t potential concerns looming on the horizon, but a careful analysis will show that most of these are mere growing pains or survivable setbacks at worst. Even if the Overwatch League turns out to be a bad bet for all the venture capitalists out there, it’s quite clear that esports has become “too big to fail” with companies also actively investing in many different orgs across other competitions as well. There’s also a clear parallel in traditional sports when it comes to handling match-fixing allegations or doping considerations, though it has to be said that efforts along these lines are very much still in their infancy as part as esports are concerned. On the flipside, the fact that these notions are even part of the discussion already show that competitive gaming is something to be taken seriously, an environment with enough money to win and enough prestige to find that cheating of this kind and caliber can be considered worth the risks and the potential consequences. Again, solution for these matters – not that they are currently on the forefront of esports – are only a matter of time.
All in all, the future of esports is brighter than ever – and even if some of the flagship projects in the scene fail to live up to the lofty expectations, it’s quite clear that competitive gaming is durable, increasingly more popular, and undoubtedly here to stay going forward.