Where Next For eSports?
A Brief History, And What You Need To Know For 2019
11:55 03 October 2018
If you’re new to the world of eSports, believe us when we say it’s kind of a big deal. Competitive video gaming is nothing new; it’s possible to trace eSports back to the 1980s, with the advent of companies like Twin Galaxies and TV programmes like Starcade. Over the next couple of decades, the competitive video gaming scene would grow and grow, and thanks to titles like Starcraft and Quake in the 1990s, eSports began to take hold in the public’s imagination.
The mid-2000s saw South Korean competitive gaming teams go global on titles like Counter-Strike and Warcraft III, and as soon as Twitch appeared on the scene in 2011, MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers to its platform. Since then, the eSports market has grown and grown; 2018 is debatably the year that eSports “came of age”, with huge debates centering on whether it should be classified as a “real sport” and prize pots only increasing in size.
Right now, eSports is riding high. There’s talk of eSports becoming a billion-dollar economy very soon, with its worth looking likely to reach $900 million this year alone. Dota 2 and League of Legends remain extremely popular titles, with around 17.9 million hours of Dota 2 watched by fans and 17.2 million of League of Legends. Blizzard is also maintaining its position as a go-to company for eSports, with Overwatch, Hearthstone and StarCraft II all enjoying immense popularity as eSports contenders.
There are several eSports tournaments around the world, with some of the most important and prominent tournaments boasting staggering prize pools upwards of $1 million. Among them are League of Legends’ Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) tournament, which took place this year back in May and saw Chinese team Royal Never Give Up (RNG) take the $1 million prize pot. Elsewhere, the London-based FACEIT Major Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament took place in September, with $1 million awarded to Danish team Astralis. Of course, laws can conflict where gaming and money are concerned, take Switzerland’s action against online activities within the gambling area, which could even conflict with eSports events held there.
It’s pretty clear, then, that eSports is a huge industry with many dedicated followers and a massive amount of money on offer. You may be wondering, then, where the industry is heading next. To the untrained eye, it might seem as though eSports has reached its pinnacle, if it ever had one to begin with; competitive video gaming is still viewed by many as a poor man’s alternative to real money-making online disciplines like Forex trading or matched betting.
To think this would be to grossly underestimate a still-nascent industry, however. Over the next 2 years, it’s thought that eSports will become a billion-dollar industry, with China and the USA generating around 56% of that $1 billion alone. In 2018, the global audience is estimated to be around 380 million by end-of-year, with around 160 million dedicated fans and 215 million casual observers. It’s thought that $96 million worth of ticket sales will be generated by fans physically attending eSports events this year alone, so that number is only destined to grow as time goes on.
Don’t think that game developers haven’t noticed this trend. Battle royale game Fortnite proved ludicrously popular this year, with Epic Games providing a total of $100 million spread across different prize pools for its offering’s inaugural eSports year. Fortnite’s closest rival PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG for short) this year saw its first PUBG Global Invitational tournament in Berlin, which took place in July and offered a $400,000 prize. Activision saw this ridiculous runaway success and promptly added a Battle Royale mode to their upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII.
With all of this in mind, expect the industry to grow exponentially in 2019. That 380 million audience is predicted to grow to around 590 million by 2020, so taking an average gives us a viewing figure of around 485 million in 2019. It’s not really possible to predict what will be popular in terms of actual eSports titles going forward; expect lead competitors Dota 2 and League of Legends to continue their dominance barring any significant changes (although League of Legends’ community is notoriously vocal when things are shaken up too much).
We don’t really know whether battle royale games will be a temporary fad or if they’re here to stay. It’s hard for us to see the genre having a huge amount of longevity given its relative simplicity; other than embellishments and genre crossovers, there isn’t anywhere for the BR genre to go besides “100 people enter, 1 person leaves”, but that might be enough to sustain it throughout 2019. eSports also gained massive legitimacy in many people’s eyes this year when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) held a forum to discuss whether eSports could at any point be integrated into the Olympics. It’s not looking likely right now, but who knows what the future holds?
The long and short of all of this is that if you’re an eSports fan or even a competitor yourself, you have nothing to fear. With increasing prize pools, skyrocketing prominence and debates in the mainstream media, eSports is going from strength to strength; it’s here to stay, and 2019 might well be its best year yet.