The landscape of sports is changing. The popularity of eSports games is on the rise, as
its audience has grown exponentially in recent years. There are approximately 400
million eSports fans worldwide, making it one of the most popular sports in the world.
But what does this mean for the general sports industry? eSports has introduced a new
audience group that mostly wasn’t interested in regular sports. Therefore, it has the
potential to revolutionize sports and expand their popularity.
What are eSports games and how they came to be?
Before I get into the changing landscape of the sports industry, it’s essential to know
what eSports games are and how they arrived on the world stage. Although eSports
gained popularity in recent years, the origins of eSports date back to the 1970s when
the first video games became commercially available to the public.
Tournaments and competitions were organized throughout the last decades of the 20th
century, but eSports wasn’t nearly as recognized as its traditional counterpart.
In the 1990s, PC gaming benefited from increased internet connectivity, so the first
large eSports tournaments began. These competitions were predecessors to today’s
tournaments and included games such as Counter-Strike, Quake, StarCraft, and
In the 21st century, televised eSports have brought the new sport closer to the global
audience and expanded the industry through the lens of viewership and financial
resources. In addition, the introduction of streaming services like Twitch in the 2010s
has allowed even further expansion of the eSports audience.
The Electronic Sports League (ESL), created in 2000, achieved great success in the
last decade and is today the most popular eSports league in the world. It features
organizations with teams competing in Counter Strike Global Offensive, League of
Legends, Dota 2, FIFA, and many more.
Similarities and differences to regular sports
While there have been many controversies about whether eSports can be considered
an actual sport, the two have many similarities. However, some key differences make
eSports games unique.
eSports athletes follow the same regime as regular athletes. They train almost every
day for many hours to perfect their skills in the game they love. However, the training
differs greatly from that of a regular athlete.
ESports players don’t need to be in perfect physical shape to compete because physical
attributes aren’t giving them an extra advantage over the competition. Namely, their
training focuses on in-game situations and reaction time rather than physical exercises.
Another difference between eSports and regular athletes is the path to becoming a paid
player. eSports players have two routes to becoming paid gamers. The first is similar to
a regular athlete — they join a professional eSports team to compete in tournaments.
However, getting noticed by a professional team can be challenging, so players take
The most popular one is the second option — streaming themselves while they
compete to grow a fanbase. Not only does this bring exposure to the player to get
noticed, but it also gives them a way to monetize their playing skills based on the
audience size they gather.
The structure of eSports organizations is very similar to those of regular sports clubs.
They usually have multiple teams competing independently in each game. Therefore,
the number of teams an organization has depends on the number of eSports games
they compete in.
Think of big European clubs, as most have famous football teams but compete under
the same name in basketball, handball, volleyball, etc. Moreover, organizations in
eSports have the same connection with their fanbases as clubs have with theirs.
One of the most important distinctions is the team fanbases. The eSports audience
tends to have different interests than regular sports fans. The median income of an
average eSports fan is 75,000$, which is higher than that of a regular sport. Therefore,
fans of eSports games have a higher purchasing power which attracts sponsors that
offer more expensive products (usually tech companies that provide gaming
Another thing that should be mentioned regarding the eSports fanbase is that it consists
of more diverse social groups — eSports are particularly popular with members of
marginalized communities such as LGBTQ+, people with mental disabilities, or people
with social anxiety. In addition, ESL actively tries to bring awareness to the problems
these people are having in society, ensuring their support for the sport.
What makes eSports games so popular?
There are two reasons why eSports might become even more popular than regular
sports: it’s rooted in the internet, where it can be accessed free of charge, and it gives
access to new audience groups that regular sports don’t attract.
eSports games can be accessed no matter where you are, without paying anything. The
biggest competitions are streamed on Twitch and YouTube, so fans can easily watch
them without paying special subscription fees. This attracts more people towards the
sport, as the competition’s main goal is to broadcast it to the viewers and not make
financial profits off TV rights and subscriptions.
For example, in 2016, 43 million individuals followed a League of Legends tournament
game, while only 30 million people followed Game 7 of the NBA Finals in the same year.
Considering that the NBA is one of the most lucrative sports organizations, this says a
lot about the popularity and shifting tides for sports audiences.
One of the main attractions of eSports games is that anyone can become an eSports
athlete, regardless of their physical capabilities.
The sports industry is expanding rapidly to include eSports as one of its main actors.
Due to its interconnectedness with the internet and streaming services that are
becoming crucial media players, the eSports industry is threatening to become even
more popular than regular sports.