Are eSports the Future of Competitive Sports?

eSports arena with Ready To Battle neon signage

Pro football, pro hockey, baseball, and pro basketball are sports that most Americans consume wholeheartedly. Many people, all over the world, bank on sports for careers and college scholarships. Competitive sports are multi-million dollar industries that are watched by billions of fans, globally. 

However, in the last couple of years, eSports numbers have boomed. More fans are tuning in to watch their favorite games played by the best in the business. What was once in the shadow of competitive sports is now rising to the forefront. Every year, eSports is bringing in huge amounts of money and viewers.

In 2018, 173 million people frequently tuned in to watch their favorite version of eSports. That number is projected to increase to 300 million by 2023. A growing number of sportsbook casinos and online sports betting sites now offer bettors the option of putting money down on eSports.

Why has the popularity of eSports grown exponentially?

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There are a number of factors that have contributed to the exponential growth of eSports over the last couple of years:

Money

Traditional sports stars are treated like royalty. The celebrity status comes with the stomping ground. They are paid millions of dollars for their sporting skills and have multi-million dollar sponsorship deals in place with some of the world’s biggest brands. This has largely been down to viewership numbers.

However meager the beginning stage of eSports was, it’s safe to say that it is quickly catching up with traditional sports. In July 2019, a 16-year-old won the title of best Fortnite player and walked away with $3 million in the process. In 2018, the average starting salary for players in the North American League of Legends salary was over $320,000. Fortnite has a prize pool of $33 million and even those that come as low as 100th place tend to leave with at least $50,000. 

This increase in monetary backing means that it is now a legitimate career that can give skilled players the same wealth and status as competitive sports stars.

Technology

eSports would not be possible without the technological advancements that have happened over the last decade. With better graphics and gameplay, the games themselves are much more enjoyable. Improved internet speeds have contributed to the growing number of people that are able to partake in and watch eSports. The huge tournaments that we see today are possible because of the evolving tech innovation.

The COVID-19 pandemic

While COVID-19 is a recent and ongoing crisis, it has contributed significantly to the value of eSports. With almost every competitive sport around the world canceled, it has given sponsors, sports betting operators, and investors food for thought. There is tremendous value in backing sports tournaments that can be played online with millions of viewers. With empty stadiums and millions of losses across global sports competitions, eSports has managed to grow its viewership and hasn’t slowed down as a result of the pandemic.

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Types of eSports

There are a number of different types of eSports, but if they are going to compete with competitive sports, there are a few specific genres that are going to be at the forefront:

Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)

Action Real Time Strategy or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) is currently one of the most popular forms of eSports, especially when it comes to tournaments and online revenue. This is when players work together and battle it out against other teams. It’s a fusion of RTS and RPG, where you can plan and strategize in real life while improving your experience and levels within the game itself.

League of Legends (LoL), Heroes of the Storm (HotS), and Defense of the Ancients (Dota) are the most popular MOBA titles. These titles are currently bringing millions of viewers, and dollars, into the eSports industry.

First Person Shooter (FPS)

First Person Shooter (FPS) is another one of eSports’ big money-makers. It has been an incredibly popular choice since the inception of eSports, with titles like Doom and Quake being early favorites. Fans are able to see through the eyes of the singular player’s character. The main goal is often to kill an opponent or destroy their property.

The most popular FPS titles that are currently being played include Call of Duty (CoD), Battlefield (BF), Counter-Strike (CS, CS:GO), and Overwatch (OW).

eSports has the opportunity to grow their sports games

Melbourne eSports Open

Although most of the eSports games fall under one or both of the above-mentioned types of eSport platforms, sports games themselves have not reached the height of games such as CS, Dota, or LoL. 

Why have sports games (with the exception of FIFA) struggled in the industry and can this change? Most of the popular eSports titles are played either in fantasy worlds or in conflict zones where the average Joe is unlikely to go. Most players feel like sports games are too similar to the real-life thing. Scoring a touchdown as Tom Brady online isn’t going to replace the joy of watching the real Tom Brady score an actual touchdown.

Another problem comes in the names of famous players used in sports games. In League of Legends or Dota, the player who is behind the character is the star of the show and rightly so, but sports games often overshadow the actual players with the famous sports stars that are already on screen.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t some traction in the sports games genre. FIFA, in particular, is incredibly popular, with a surge in numbers seen in March and April during lockdown. 

There has already been substantial work on creating traction for eSports from actual sporting representatives too. Manchester City put together an eSports team in 2019 that competed in the Online Star League in China. This was a genius move by City’s marketing team to grow their brand in China.

With sports around the world coming to a grinding halt, there has been a particular increase in sports games during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a bid to keep fans entertained during the league hiatus, many soccer teams used their famous stars to take part in competitions between each other or the public.

At the end of the day, there is a proliferation of sports games available on eSports, such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour, all of the FIFA games, NBA 2k20, Rocket League, MVP Baseball, NCAA Football, and more.

Will eSports really replace competitive sport?

Gamer with arms in the air sitting in front of a desktop

eSports has been growing rapidly in popularity for many years, and it would be remiss to believe that it merely exists in a bubble that will pop soon. More and more sponsors, investors, and streaming platforms are seeing the value in eSports as a sport itself

While global sports have been on pause during the global pandemic, it’s hard to see competitive sports going away any time soon. What we do see, however, is an opportunity for collaboration between the two worlds. Competitive sports will reign supreme in their own way, while eSports will form their own kingdom. Both offer the perfect opportunity to broaden viewers’ choices. As we go into the future, we believe that we will start seeing a huge overlap between people that are as interested in eSports as they are in competitive sports and vice versa.

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