A new era of sports is coming. It’s fast-paced, it’s exciting, and last year one of its final games was watched by more people than the average viewership of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals. Electronic sports, or e-sports, are on the rise and are likely to take over the world by the time the next decade rolls around.
The term “e-sports” refers to competitive gaming, and includes a wide variety of video games. Everything from League of Legends to Call of Duty to FIFA is included under the same umbrella. Because of that, the appeal of e-sports is large, as it can attract people with very different interests. Often, people who like to play Madden are very different people than those who spend most of their time playing Pokemon or Minecraft. However, both groups of people are part of a large community that like to play video games against others competitively.
While these people may be very different, most of them belong to the same demographic. Online gamers are likely male and somewhere between 18 and 35. Not coincidentally, the people who go on Twitter and follow accounts such as @SportsCenter and @ESPN, are also between the ages of 13 and 35. Therefore, no one should be surprised when they are leisurely scrolling through their Twitter feed and see a tweet such as the one below.
— ESPN (@espn) May 9, 2016
ESPN knows it has to control the market now, as gaming will soon explode. The sports cable behemoth has also run into some financial problems in the last few years. People don’t want to buy cable anymore. Because of the rise of services such as Netflix and Hulu, less and less people are purchasing cable subscriptions. 10 million people gave up their cable subscriptions since the beginning of 2013. These numbers left ESPN scrambling for a new plan.
ESPN sees e-sports as their saving grace. In 2015, e-Sports raked in $612 million in revenue and that amount is expected to continue to grow by approximately 30% over the next five years. E-sports also boasts a staggering 134 million viewers spread out across the various video games that e-sports encompasses.
How do so many people watch e-sports right now? Most e-sports viewing takes place on Internet streams on services such as Twitch. Twitch allows anyone to broadcast whatever game they are playing and share it with fans. Hunter Pence, right fielder for the San Francisco Giants, is an avid Twitch user who frequently engages with friends and fans through that medium.
Pence is an example of an athlete tying together fans of baseball and fans of video games. The video games that Pence plays range across the board. From Killer Instinct to Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Pence has played a wide variety of games and has become a symbol representing the union of video games and sports. Earlier this year, The Ringer published an article about the Titans and their love for Super Smash Bros. It’s also well known that all athletes have a universal respect for FIFA, especially Chad Johnson.
Because sports and videogames have become so intertwined, it makes a lot of sense that NBA teams have invested in e-sports teams. The 76ers recently purchased two different teams, Team Dignitas and Team Apex, and plans on merging them into one super team. Another group led by Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, entrepreneur Peter Guber, and basketball great Magic Johnson recently purchased Team Liquid. These two groups are gearing up for a future where eSports is a billion-dollar industry, a future that is only a few short years away.
It’s also safe to assume that there will be a lot more athletes involved in streaming services such as Twitch. The 76ers will ask players such as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to start streaming their video game sessions with the goal of increasing the amount of people engaged with the athletes online. In about ten years, we will have an entire generation of athletes that grew up playing video games, and they will be paired with an equivalent fan base that values both video games and athletics equally.
E-sport teams associated with these franchises will skyrocket in value and we will have an entire new subdivision of entertainment at our fingertips. If you look at the growth of e-sports revenues over the last few years, it is impossible to neglect the future coming our way. ESPN knows it. The 76ers know it. Soon, other teams will follow suit and more and more teams will be purchasing a supplementary e-sports team to represent them. No matter how many times angry fans tweet at SportsCenter, E-sports are growing exponentially. Soon enough they will make their way to the final frontier, SportsCenter’s Top Ten. Oh, wait, they’re already there.