The Esports Evolution: Out of the Basement, Into Arenas

esports arena

Esports has grown exponentially in recent years, expanding into a major industry that shows no signs of slowing momentum.

Indeed, the esports ecosystem is on pace this year to surpass $1 billion in revenue for the first time.

Yet, even as esports is coming into its own, not everyone understands exactly what it is and why it matters.

TechNewsWorld spoke with several esports aficionados to hear what they had to say about the evolution of esports, what’s driving its popularity, and what to expect from this burgeoning industry going forward.

“The growth of video gaming itself is well-documented, to the point that I would say that gaming is no longer a subculture — gaming is culture,” Luke Cotton, COO Code Red Esports, an esports agency in London, told TechNewsWorld.

“People love to compete and to watch competition, so the growth of esports is natural. Young people are growing up with the internet, with games, with esports, and with YouTube and Twitch being their primary forms of entertainment where they are consuming gaming and esports content,” he noted.

“Every year, the esports audience increases, as young people growing up don’t know a world different from this one.”

Fueled by Current Events

At a time when people are turning to a variety of alternative digital arenas for entertainment, esports has emerged as the activity of this era.

“Esports just makes sense,” Andy Miller, CEO of NRG, professional gaming and entertainment company in Los Angeles, told TechNewsWorld. “One in three people on the planet play games every week, [so] of course they want to see the best in the world play the games they play and love.”

“The average age of the NRG fan is 25,” he continued. “They have grown up playing and watching others play games, and this has chipped away at traditional media consumption.”

Restrictions caused by the pandemic, as well, have helped to fuel an industry that had already been taking off.

“The global esports and games streaming business has indeed grown exponentially the last few years, but [it] spiked significantly last year due to stay-at-home restrictions,” Aaron Speach, CEO and founder of Esports Technologies, explained to TechNewsWorld.

His company is a provider of esports product, platform and marketing solutions that is developing wagering products for esports fans and bettors.

“People were looking for a community and a way to connect with others during that time, and the online nature of esports contributed to this perfect storm of events that helped boost its popularity,” Speach noted.

Big Business

Though esports began as a cottage industry of people connected by a passion for video games, it’s quickly grown to become a multimillion-dollar market.

“Initially, esports was a grassroots pursuit, driven by passion, with events mostly taking place online, or sometimes in school halls, in hotel ballrooms, or at LAN centers, rather than the sold-out stadiums that we see today,” said Cotton.

“Whilst there were occasional major events with prize money, players were rarely paid and were playing solely for the love of the game. Whilst that love remains, it was a distant world from the multimillion-dollar contracts signed by professional players nowadays, colossal prize pools which rival and often eclipse traditional sports, and the associated celebrity status,” he observed.

The growth in esports has been as much about the evolution of technology as anything.

“The most transformative moments for esports were technological: the introduction of free online broadcasting services, such as Justin.TV — which later became Twitch — was the catalyst for making esports widely accessible from a viewing perspective, enabling drastic audience growth,” said Cotton.

“Prior to such services, broadcasting was very challenging, with significant bandwidth costs to broadcast video even to a small number of viewers,” he recalled. “Widespread high-speed home broadband enabled increased participation and the consumption of such broadcasts.”

The growth in esports has, in turn, attracted investment dollars that have helped to facilitate even more growth.

“Recently there has been a large influx of investment dollars into the space, with more and more mainstream acceptance,” Bill Elafros, founder of Toronto-based Elafros Consulting, told TechNewsWorld. He’s also co-founder of Beat Invitational; an esports consultancy and tournament organization service in Canada.

“Thirteen- to 34-year-olds no longer watch as much television and are turning to other outlets to spend time. When I started a decade ago, the stakes were much lower overall in the esports space. Investment dollars have funneled in, competition is stiffer, sponsors are more selective, and production demands are much higher.

“You could get away with smaller prize pools before, whereas now, a live event can run in the high six or low seven figures, depending on scope.

“Years ago, you could potentially get away without having a broadcast, without instant replays. Now it’s become common practice to have that and an additional production staff on top,” he explained.

Entertainment Alongside Competition

One significant shift in the esports arena has been the growth in spectatorship.

“The most recent evolution of esports has seen it somewhat split into two different forms,” observed Cotton.

“The more traditional form of esports, which is the pinnacle of competition, with the best players in the world competing in stadiums for huge prizes; and esports as entertainment, with Twitch-native personalities creating competitive gaming content and interacting directly with their fans and entertaining them, rather than having their sole focus as winning,” he described.

“I expect both paths to continue and thrive, [and for] there to be continued increased interest from traditional sports and entertainment,” he predicted. As esports’ audience continues to grow, its young audience goes through life and increases their disposable income, and as such, brands place more focus on the sector.”

As both technology and games evolve, so will esports itself.

“New games come out all the time,” NRG’s Miller told TechNewsWorld. “The next big esport is around the corner. New ways to view streaming and interact as a fan are also developing in the esports and game streaming space. Virtual reality is also a super-exciting prospect for the future, with the ability to merge human athletics within video game settings.”

Along with the types of games available, the definition of “esports” is, itself, changing.

“The definition of esports is continuously evolving over time. Competitive gaming has evolved from the 1v1 shooter arena days into a much broader category of games,” said Elafros.

“You have a lot of crossovers from traditional sports now, with F1 sim racing, soccer, and more trying to get that lucrative 18-to-34 audience to convert them into regular fans, as well. Additionally, many roles and job opportunities that do not exist in the esports industry will become in high demand soon, as the industry continues to evolve and mature,” he explained.

New Career Opportunities

Ultimately, esports will continue to take the lead in an ever-evolving digital ecosystem that it’s helped to create.

“Esports is growing rapidly year over year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Seth Mason, founder and CMO of The Esport Company, in Johnstown, Pa. told TechNewsWorld.

“Professional athletes in the major sports play and market esports, [and] musicians, artists, and more showcase that it’s not just for the person in mom’s basement anymore,” he maintained.

“Esports is beginning to shake off the negative stigma that surrounded it during the early 2010s,” Mason contended. “The future for esports is around education and developing the career fields around esports to create a pipeline of opportunities to work in the industry.”

Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and is the author of Women in Tech: 20 Trailblazers Share Their Journeys, published by ECT News Network in May 2020. Email Vivian.

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