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27. December 2017

published by
Kurt Kaiser

eSports: justified hype or overblown hysteria?

eSports is currently developing at break-neck speed into a mass phenomenon and a market worth billions.

It was foreseeable that digitization and networking would also reach and change sports. But the fact that eSports would morph into its own completely new discipline, basically a sport in its own right, developing rapidly into a mass phenomenon and a market worth billions, is something that, for the longest time, only hardcore fans truly believed in. Welcome to reality, welcome to the fastest-growing sport of today: live video gaming, aka eSports.

What is eSports?

eSports is an abbreviation for “electronic sports” and refers to professional competition in computer- and video gaming. Just as with other classic sports, it’s all about going head-to-head in different disciplines. The world saw the first eSports events back in the early 1970s, shortly after the game “Pong” first appeared. By today’s standards, an unbelievably primitive “tennis” game. Championships took place (because there was still no Internet) on arcade machines and at LAN parties. So much for how it began. With the onset of digitization, eSports rapidly took off, with new technologies and bandwidths more than justifying the hype.

Rapid Development

The once private gatherings of gamers developed into a professional worldwide eSports market along with an efficiently networked group of other enthusiasts competing on the amateur level. In Germany alone, up to now around 11 million people have watched eSports matches, while the marketing-research experts of Newzoo estimate around 385 million spectators worldwide. Many of these, incidentally, are watching via TV. Which means, even now many of the classic sports are already being overtaken. And the numbers continue to trend upward. Amongst 16- to 24-year-old Internet users, every other one is personally familiar with eSports, while over 3 million Germans are eSports enthusiasts. It is hardly surprising that these fans are also trailblazers in the use of digital and social media. The better part of 100 million euro in prize money was doled out at eSports events and championships worldwide in 2016. The scene’s biggest events, including ESL One in Cologne, The International in Seattle and the Leagues of Legends World Championship, which is held in several arenas around the globe, manage to sell out entire stadiums. One eSports superstar, the 21-year-old South Korean known as “Faker”, took home 2.2 million EUR in prize money in 2016 alone. And that doesn’t even take into account sponsoring agreements. Newzoo is working under the assumption that, by 2020, over 1.4 billion EUR in earnings will result from eSports (including services, sponsoring, advertising, merchandising and media rights).

“The better part of 100 million euro in prize money was doled out at eSports events and championships worldwide in 2016”

New Ecosystem, New Opportunities

eSports is on the right path to establishing itself amongst the top 5 sports of the 21st century. At rapid speed, a micro-cosmos is developing, an ecosystem of eSports athletes and -clans, leagues and tournaments, of media, event organizers, sponsors and marketing agencies. Furthermore, virtually all of the established sports are jumping on the eSports bandwagon. Be that the MotoGP with its own eSports world championship, FIFA, which markets the best-known football game, and with the added advantage that there is barely a single Bundesliga or Premier League team without its own eSports team, or the very successful virtual world championships of the Red Bull Air Race – the potential is great. Especially when you note that the most important eSports titles have absolutely nothing to do with traditional sport as we know it. Leading amongst these are “League of Legends” (Riot Games), followed by “Dota 2” (Valve) and “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” (Valve) as well as “StarCraft 2” (Blizzard). Of the games that are coupled to real-world sports, “FIFA 17” (Electronic Arts) is by far the most successful.

Sponsors follow the trend

In 2017, Nielsen Sports surveyed 250 sponsoring decision-makers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. 49 % of respondents believe that eSports will become increasingly important, 44% believe that gaming is also on the rise. That said, these decision-makers see the greatest potential for sponsoring growth and development during 2018 in these two disciplines. Michael Heina, Senior Consultant at Nielsen Sports, says in an interview with SID: “Germany was one of the pioneers in the field of eSports, with the likes of Clan SK Gaming or today’s sports giant ESL. Out studies confirm the trend, that sponsoring decision-makers in the German-speaking market are ascribing major importance to eSports this year. In this regard, it remains to be seen the extent to which the sector will continue to professionalize in future, also in comparison to the established sports. I can imagine that eSports will establish itself long term as one of the top 5 sports in Germany.” It is not surprising that in Austria, too, a number of eSports initiatives, championships, events and the like have also become established. Whether it be the Bundesliga in cooperation with ‘krone.at’ or A1 ESPORTS LEAGUE AUSTRIA, there is clear movement in the market.

Justified Hype, Overblown Hysteria?

Neither of the above. A new genre of sport is developing quickly, consistently and unstoppably. It is the transformation of gaming and gamification into “real” sports. With all of the emotions and opportunities for partners and sponsors that go with it.

Those who take advantage of this field with the right ideas and strategies now, will be able to decisively shape the entire scene and exploit it efficiently for their own brand.