Prepare to level up: the world of esports in 2020

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Esports has grown enormously over the last few years, catapulting it from a niche form of entertainment to a mainstream industry that is now followed all over the world.

In terms of viewership, Newzoo predicts that the total esports audience will reach 557 million by 2021, rising from 380 million in 2018 and 335 million in 2017. Indeed, global audience figures have already surpassed many mainstream sports including golf and American football, with the potential to also eclipse baseball in the near future.

Revenues are also on the rise, with global revenue passing the $1billion threshold in 2019 and being expected to hit nearly $1.7billion by 2021. That equates to a huge pool of prize money for the top players, many of which are now becoming celebrities in their own right.

So, there can be no arguing that the world of esports must be taken seriously. But what trends can we expect to see over the next 12 months?

Monetisation matters

Esports is still fairly immature when it comes to credible and measurable viewing metrics. However, further focus around the analysis of data and market intelligence will help tell a story and translate the trends and nuances of esports more easily to ‘traditional’ sporting stakeholders in 2020.

One key issue is that many viewers tend to watch content in the background (such as on another tab in a browser) until a moment of key action or the climax of a round, so this challenge will have to be overcome to drive monetisation opportunities.

The industry will also work more collaboratively in order to navigate the end-to-end experience for both the online viewer and the arena attendee, including personalised content and interactions to extract further revenue. One good recent example of industry collaboration is Blizzard Entertainment using ESL’s events to piggy-back its lesser-known Warcraft & StarCraft competitions, as opposed to running them at Blizzcon. Expect to see more of this over the coming year.

A widening participation pool

Although the behaviours of the primary demographic (18-34-year-olds) are ever-changing and competition for attention during prime-time hours has never been higher, organisations have an opportunity to engage a huge pool of people by embracing esports as it continues to grow.

As such, we can expect more traditional sporting teams, associations, rights holders and relevant intermediaries to run feasibility projects to understand the potential returns on offer from investing in the esports space.

We will also see more publishers hosting live events in-house and additional sponsor-led events held over the next 12 months. The opportunity to reach the millennial market will be too good for many brands to turn down, with the likes of Pringles, Red Bull and BMW already demonstrating the marketing power and revenue potential on offer.

Increasing professionalism

The esports ecosystem is slowly defining a set of foundations for governance, rules and regulations – including event formats – to help build out the credibility of this form of entertainment. This will accelerate in 2020.

Although the barriers to entry for esports are relatively low, increasing the industry’s professionalism will encourage people to actively engage with content, the talent and associated sponsors.

This trend will also impact production values and the arena experience. Live shows are constantly re-defining the standards for the die-hard and increasingly demanding esports fans, with insightful AI graphics and immersive behind-the-scenes content to emotively connect with audiences in defining moments.

Over the coming months, further innovations will be developed to further improve the viewer and attendee experience, as well as to enhance technical capabilities. This could range from real-time stats and automated predictive tools, to player insights and live heart rate monitors, all of which will serve to keep audiences engaged and entertained.

Influencers rule

The importance of influencers in esports cannot be underestimated, as illustrated by the ongoing high-profile feud between Ninja & Tfue. These two players stream on the platform powerhouses Mixer and Twitch respectively, with Ninja’s move to exclusively stream on Mixer as opposed to Twitch resulting in a three million viewer month-on-month uplift for the Microsoft owned site.

This showcases the huge power these players now wield, and their popularity is only going to increase in the future. The big plus for the industry is that these influencers come from all over the world. This was shown in the Fortnite World Cup in July, where seven-figure prize funds were won by British, American, Norwegian, Dutch and Austrian players, reflecting the global nature of the industry.

Clearly, it’s a hugely exciting time to be involved in esports, as it still has plenty of room to grow. The onus now is on brands and public bodies to recognise this as no longer a niche, underground activity, but as mainstream entertainment that consistently sells out arenas and attracts a global fanbase. The future is certainly bright.

At Gravity Media, we’re no strangers to eSports. We’ve been active in this market since Day 1, having been the first production company ever to bring a game into a TV workflow – including overcoming the challenge of region-specific encoding. Ever since, we’ve been an integral part of an incredible success story, supporting the likes of Microsoft, Activision and EA Games at some of the biggest live gaming events on the planet.

Our packages are both modular and integrated, meaning we can flex our offering to match your requirements. Contact us by emailing enquiries@gravitymedia.com for a single service, or a complete end-to-end solution for your next eSports live broadcast or event.