Are eSports the Future of Competitive Sports?

eSports arena with Ready To Battle neon signage

Pro football, hockey, baseball, and basketball are sports that most Americans consume wholeheartedly. Whether you are supporting your favorite team, playing a sport to earn a scholarship, or doing some online sports betting, major sports events have something for everyone and touch our lives in different ways. Competitive sports are also 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 video games played by the best in their respective competitive scenes. What was once in the shadow of traditional competitive sports is now rising to the forefront. Every year, these online competitive sports bring in huge amounts of money and viewers, and these numbers are just going to keep growing.

This year, over 495 million people frequently tuned in to watch their favorite teams compete in their favorite online competitive games. That number is projected to increase to 646 million by 2023. An earlier prediction from 2019 stated that the total number of viewers would increase to 330 million by 2023, but because of the rapidly growing popularity of eSports, as well as the global lockdown of traditional sports, the numbers have exploded. A growing number of sportsbook casinos and online sports betting sites caught on to this trend and are now offering bettors the option of putting money down on these tournaments.

Why has the popularity of eSports grown exponentially?

Fortnite World Cup Finals Round Two

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 because of the viewership these sports stars generate.

However meager the beginning stages of eSports were, it’s safe to say that it is quickly catching up with traditional sports. According to Hal Biagas, the executive director of the North American LCS Players Association, the average professional League of Legends player in 2020 earns a salary of about $410,000. That means that the average salary for a professional LCS player has increased by almost 400% in the last 3 years. 

DOTA 2 is another massively popular eSport and is also the highest-paid game in the eSports scene. Last year DOTA 2 gave away $52 million in prize money at tournaments, and this year they’re giving away even more.

If you still think that professional gamers aren’t making as much money as some of the biggest sports stars in the world, consider that DOTA 2 (which is only 1 of many massive titles) has given away over $220 million dollars in prize money since the first tournament in 2012 – which works out to be about $27.5 million dollars a year. Not only that, but at last year’s DOTA 2 International tournament, each of the 5 players from the winning team left with $3.1 million dollars each — $1.1 million more than Tiger Woods won at the Masters tournament.

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 these tournaments, which in turn generates more revenue.  

These events take place at massive stadiums and arenas, just like traditional sports events, and are fully decked out with pyrotechnics and augmented reality components, such as a hologram of a dragon flying around the stadium as the teams take their places on the stage. 5G and 3D holographic technologies are surely going to contribute to an even more exciting and immersive live experience of one of these massive events.

The COVID-19 pandemic

The cancellation of almost every competitive sport around the world gave 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, without risking the health and safety of anyone involved. 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.

Even some sports stars have taken to playing the video game equivalent of the sport that they play, to keep themselves active. Take-Two Interactive and 2K (a video game company and studio) and the NBA Player Association have partnered with ESPN to put on a tournament featuring stars such as Durant and Tre Young. They are set to play the popular basketball game NBA 2K20, which means that they could potentially be playing as themselves!

Types of eSports

Melbourne eSports Open

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

Battle Royale (BR)

Battle Royale titles are a unique blend of exploration, survival, and combat, that pits a large number of players against each other in a constantly shrinking battle zone. This genre is among the most watched and most played in the world, featuring immensely popular titles such as Fortnite, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), and Apex Legends.

Because the area of play is constantly shrinking, battle royale games force players towards each other to speed up the action, and heighten the intensity, while forcing players to adapt and change their play style to the situation. This creates incredibly exciting matches, that keeps fans on the edge of their seats as the game comes down to the last two remaining players or teams. In the end, there can be only one winner, and it’s a fight to the death.

Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)

Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games are currently some of the most popular genres in eSports games, 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 real-time strategy (RTS) and role-playing game (RPG), where you can plan and strategize with your team in order to defeat enemies and take objectives that improve your experience and power within the game.

League of Legends (LoL) and Defense of the Ancients 2(DOTA 2) are the most popular MOBA titles in eSports today. These games are currently bringing millions of viewers, and dollars, into the industry. They are also becoming incredibly popular in the online sports betting scene, since these games are so stat-heavy and well analyzed, they create betting opportunities that rivals and surpasses even the most sophisticated traditional sports. Keep an eye out at sportsbooks for some new and interesting types of eSports betting.

First Person Shooter (FPS)

First Person Shooters (FPS) are another big money-maker genre. They have 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 player’s character, and witness their actions and decision-making in real-time. The main goal in FPS tournaments is often to kill an opponent or achieve an objective before them, depending on the game being played.

The most popular FPS titles that are currently being played include Call of Duty (CoD), Rainbow Six Siege (R6S), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS, CS:GO), and Valorant.

eSports has the opportunity to grow their sports games

Although most eSports games fall under one or all of the above-mentioned types of eSport platforms, sports games themselves are not as popular as games such as CS:GO, Fortnite, or LoL. 

Why have sports games (except for FIFA) struggled in the industry and can this change? Most of the popular eSports games 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 Russel Wilson online isn’t going to replace the joy of watching the real Russel Wilson score an actual touchdown.

Another problem comes in the names of famous players used in sports games. In League of Legends or DOTA 2, 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 genre of games. FIFA, in particular, is incredibly popular, with a surge in numbers seen in March and April during lockdown. 

With sports around the world coming to a grinding halt, eSports games during the COVID-19 pandemic have become much more popular. 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. The same happened with NBA stars and the game NBA 2K20, as well as a few NFL stars such as Michael Vick who played the popular football game, Madden 20, in a tournament back in March. While this may have kept the pro’s hands from getting cold during the sports hiatus, these tournaments generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations towards COVID-19 relief charities.

At the end of the day, there is a proliferation of sports games available, such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour, all the FIFA games, NBA 2k20, 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 and eSports betting.

With global sports events that were postponed due to the global pandemic now starting to open back up, it’s unlikely that competitive sports are 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 see even more overlap between people that are as interested in eSports as they are in competitive sports and vice versa.

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