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Where next for eSports?

eSport Competition

Image: Shutterstock / Gorodenkoff

Few would dispute the fact that eSports is one of the fastest and most exciting areas of growth in gaming and, perhaps, anywhere in the entertainment sphere.

ESPN report that an online audience of 27 million watched the 2014 League of Legends Championship in Seoul – that’s two million more than watched the final round of that year’s Masters golf and ten million more than watched the NBA and World Series finals.

36 million watched the 2015 LoL Championships and 43 million watched the 2016 Championships. That’s year-on-year audience growth of between 15 and 20%.

If you’re an investor looking at spreadsheets that makes for pretty good reading. Indeed, market research firm NewZoo project that “global esports audience will reach 385 million in 2017…and brand investment will double by 2020.”

Nonetheless, eSports remains in the shadow of sports it outperforms numerically – it has mainstream viewing figures but doesn’t yet feel mainstream.

Take the Masters as an example. Most people could name at least a few golfers that took part in the tournament. Many would be able to name the winner. How many could name an eSports player?

eSports may simply be a victim of its newness here, though the concept of competitive gaming has been around for longer than most people think.

It’s generally agreed that the first significant eSports competition took place in 1972 when Stanford University hosted a Spacewar tournament – no mean technological feat in the days when computers took up whole rooms!

The arrival of the internet enabled the expansion of eSports beyond those committed enough to travel to a single location to play with other players on a local area network.

A worldwide network enabled players to game competitively against others from the comfort of their own home. Big Fish Games found in a 2016 survey that gamers spend an average of 6.5 hours a week playing against others.

Competitive eSports tournaments, streamed over the web, are the cherry on top of the very large cake of online gaming. It is for this reason that Vivek Ranadivé, owner of eSports team Sacramento Kings believes that”eSports are the future.”

“You don’t have to be 7 feet tall or jump 40 inches to be successful (in eSports),” he pointed out. “The fact that it’s global, driven by technology and has a young demographic, all make this a very exciting time to get involved.”

The names of those who are getting involved provides arguably the surest indicator that it is only a matter of time before eSports truly makes its mark. Disney XD, ESPN, NBC and the BBC have all bid for eSports rights in the past few years, while increasing connections between the world of sport and eSport also bode well.

Manchester City and West Ham are among the Premiership football teams to sign eSports players to compete in FIFA tournaments for them, while it has even been suggested that eSports could be included in a bid for the 2024 Olympic Games.

“The youth, yes they are interested in eSport and this kind of thing,” said Tony Estanguet, co-president of the Paris 2024 bid. “Let’s look at it. Let’s meet them. Let’s try if we can find some bridges.”

Where next for eSports? Onwards, upwards, into the mainstream.

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