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Top
Other

The Meteoric Ascent of Esports

Nikhil Kalro

Let’s get the secret out before we go any further. Esports viewership will outpace sporting viewership comfortably within the next decade. When it happens, it could be as momentous as the push to get esports into the Olympics.

esports la thieves

Image Credit: Call of Duty League Twitter

The growth has been meteoric; not even the lull due to Covid-19, which affected several businesses worldwide, has led to a slowdown. In fact, Covid proved to be a blessing in disguise, for it gave people a chance to foray into things they’d treat as a hobby. 

This, in essence, is the genesis of esports’ growing viewership worldwide, even if it may not be the only reason, because numbers pre-pandemic were on the rise. The significant thing to note is how growth has been organic and fast-paced across different esports. 

The Call of Duty 2022 Championship that took place earlier this month produced its highest peak viewership in two years. The grand finale between Atlanta FaZe and LA Thieves was the highest-viewed game of the tournament. Of course, it was down to LA Thieves being a formidable outfit; the only team to win multiple championships in CoD: Vanguard. 

Overall, CDL Championship 2022 had a peak viewership of 275,244, far above and beyond the 150k mark that Major 1 and Major 4 reached. It was in 2020 that CDL last saw this kind of viewership, when Atlanta FaZe took on Dallas Empire for the top spot. 

The 2021 CoD championship managed just under 240k peak viewers. If these numbers are a significant milestone in CoD’s evolution, they aren’t just restricted to any one sport. Dota went a step further with the interest in and viewership of Arlington Major 2022.

The event enjoyed a viewership of 707,907 at its peak, which nearly helped shatter a five-year record from the Kiev Major, where 842,585 people tuned in. Arlington also had 305,286 average viewers, making it also the sixth most watched Dota 2 event overall.

This recent surge in viewership is a reflection of the resurgence in the esports scene. Six of the top 10 most-viewed Dota 2 events have come in the past two years, including The International 10, which enjoyed a peak viewership of 2.74 million. Team Spirit, PSG.LGD, OG and Team Aster all contributed significant chunks of the viewership owing to the fanbase they enjoy.

In total, the matches of PGL Arlington Major 2022 have generated more than 33.7M hours watched and gathered 305.3K average viewers. As expected, the most popular match of the tournament was the grand final between Team Spirit and PSG.LGD, watched by almost 708K people at its peak. At the same time, the lower bracket final between Spirit and Aster took the second spot, having gathered almost 601K people at its peak.

Team Spirit became the most popular team of the tournament both by average viewers and hours watched. PSG.LGD is second according to these indicators. The top five also included OG, Beastcoast, and Aster.

Then there’s Fortnite, which is fast gathering steam as one of the most popular esports. This has been fuelled by Tyler “Ninja” Blevins’ rise. Ninja, who? Well, chances are teenage kids in your neighbourhood would know every little bit about the Fortnite star who shot to fame four years ago.

At its peak, Ninja’s game with Drake, which fuelled Fortnite’s popularity, had as many as 630,000 viewers on Twitch, Amazon’s live streaming platform. This was more than 1.5 times the previous record of 388,000. These numbers tell you how the spike in viewership is significant, and not just a mere bump up from the previous high.

Ninja has been a megastar since, with 11 million Twitch followers and an overall social media following of over 20 million. That he could log more social media interactions than Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, MS Dhoni and Roger Federer told you a story of his popularity, and by extension esports.

Per conservative estimates, he could be making close to $80,000 a month just through social media engagements and paid partnerships. This isn’t an exact number, mind you. It’s just an approximation to underline the significance of esports and the revolution some of its players have spurred.

As a platform, Twitch’s fanbase has now stretched close to 4 million. Simply put, there are these many content creators out there to generate revenue. At a minimum, streamers make money through revenue from ads.

Then there’s revenue through donation – fans are happy paying to watch esports content and get a peek into the lives of their favourite stars. This significant shift in esports and the way it’s consumed has resulted in traditional sports now looking at ways to innovate and engage esports audiences in order to win back fans they’ve lost.

Another aspect that spells out the rise and rise of esports is the kind of investment it’s attracting in terms of sponsorships. Companies like Intel, Logitech, Audi, BMW, Red Bull and Monster Energy look at esports as a viable proposition to leverage their brands and find a synergy between good content and furthering their own reach through innovative methods.

Pressure is growing because last year alone viewership for esports shaded those of Major League Baseball by five million. In 2022, the NFL is likely to be the only league that could outperform esports – it tells you of the ground esports has covered. Just to be talked of in the same league as the NFL is something that wasn’t possible even a few years ago.

This year, for more relevance and in trying to live up to the trend, Formula One announced the commencement of their sim racing series, for which qualifiers were held worldwide, while the NBA and NHL completed their seasons before the esports madness set in to ensure there was no clash. Given pure esports and sports sims are projected to surpass most traditional sports by 2030, we’re at a watershed moment in sporting history, truly.

Last year, esports grew over 20% in revenue to become a $2 billion dollar industry. As much as 75% of this money comes from sponsorship and media rights. This is a direct consequence of viewership. Sponsors see value in trying to leverage their brands in a high-profile esports environment only because they’re guaranteed the eyeballs. 

When Australia got their first ever pro esports team in 2016, with Guinevere Capital buying a controlling stake in a team called Dire Wolves, the move raised eyebrows because the sporting community at large failed to understand why an equity firm would pump in money for what is essentially a “video game.” In the same year, when St George Bank announced it would sponsor ESL Australia, which publishes games Counter Strike and Dota 2 in the country, there was a growing sense of acceptance. Six years on, Australia is looking at China and Korea eye to eye as far as the gaming scene goes. 

Nathan Mott, CEO of Dire Wolves, was 20 when they bought the team. His parents dissuaded him from touching the computer because they thought he was wasting his time as a teenager. Today, his company touches millions of lives in different forms. He’s on a mission to build the Dire Wolves team into a big brand like the AFL teams Collingwood and Hawthorn.

In South Korea, their esports association is managed by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, and affiliated with the South Korean Olympic Committee. In America, celebrities and multinational conglomerates have invested in teams. Recently, FaZe Clan became the first esports organization traded on the NASDAQ. If esports can dare to dream today as a whole, it’s because of responses like these: of fans, organizations and sporting heads of countries alike. We’re at that stage where this revolution is only going to get bigger and better. The Olympic dream is well and truly alive.