Could Esports Grow Bigger Than the NFL?

Digital technology has transformed the way we work, rest and explore the world; now, it’s on track to transform our sports experience as well. An increasing number of people are turning to computer programs to optimize their daily and sports life. Moreover, this is happening in ways previously never thought of.

For centuries, both professional and amateur sportsmen were supposed to be sweating outdoors, persevere and endure countless hours of practice. However, for the generation that grew up shaped by modern tech, this is no longer enough. In fact, we’re already seeing that modern technology and video gaming is rewriting the definition of sport. It turns out that sport can be experienced from the comfort of one’s own house. All you need is a robust PC and a bunch of top-notch hardware like headphones, a mouse and a keyboard to view the final or join in and play on your own. In a nutshell, this is what esports is.

Most people consider it a real sport, however, the latter has its own assessment criteria. Sport is by and large an activity organized according to certain rules, which consists in comparing ones’ physical or intellectual abilities, as well as preparation for this activity and interpersonal relations arising in the process. Perhaps, physical abilities are not directly connected with esports, yet intellectual ones must certainly be. In terms of preparation, professional players train regularly, spending up to 6 hours a day on mastering their favorite computer games and honing skills. Teams also sign sponsorship contracts, under conditions of which subsequent cooperation is guaranteed. An important difference between e-sports and traditional sports is the absence of barriers. In this case, the principle of rooting for the national team or players presenting their own city/country is not so strong. Fans support a specific team, regardless of its geographic location – this is one of the reasons why the popularity of eSports spreads around the planet and fills arenas.

For the past decade, esports has been seeing a massive surge in popularity around the globe. Esports combines several powerful trends: a growing gaming audience, video consumption on the Internet, as well as social connections that are formed and maintained online. Infrastructure is being built around the professional leagues, and the prizes are becoming more and more impressive. ESL is the global leader in eSports, says the site of the league. ESL tournaments are available for players of very different levels in almost all games. 7 million players have already played 12 million matches in 88,000 tournaments. Esports is gradually turning into a real profession – US cyber-sportsmen will soon start receiving medical insurance and retirement plans, and the largest American universities are planning to create eSports teams.

There are now a lot of professional leagues in various sports, and a view is crystallizing that esports is on track to outperform traditional sports and well-marketed events like the NFL. Just a couple of years ago, most experts would have dismissed this thought, but the latest market research shows that this industry is booming. A tech consultancy Activate estimated that esports viewership accounted for 250 million people in 2017, which resulted in thousands of dollars of streaming revenues. In 2017, the eSports market volume amounted to $655 million, and by this indicator, cybersport is far behind traditional rivals. For instance, NFL revenue for the same period amounted to $14 billion, MLB – $10 billion, NBA – $8 billion. According to Activate’s forecast for 2020, a standalone esports final competition would attract an audience of 70 million people which is more than the combined US audience for hockey, baseball, and football.

By 2021, esports will be second only to the NFL, the firm goes on to predict. It makes sense to suggest that it would only take a couple more years for the esports industry to climb to the market-leading position. For example, resources like Esportsjunkie.com are already gaining traction thanks to their coverage of the new video games in the esports landscape.

Despite promising forecasts which are substantiated by growing audiences and revenues, the esports industry has still a long way to go, experts say. The lion’s share of traditional sports success – like the NFL – lies in their fruitful cooperation with major global brands. To grow esports into a mega industry able to generate billions of dollars in revenue like the NFL, the esports companies have to make this market a lucrative opportunity for big brands. For the upcoming decade, this would most likely be the case.

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