It's come a long way since the earliest days, but eSports are finally gaining ground with viewers, impressing advertisers, and showing off the kind of longevity that takes a new development from fad to mainstream. A new report from Juniper Research notes that the numbers are already on the rise, and will do some impressive things in just the next five years.
The new Juniper Research study, titled “Digital Games: eSports 2015 – 2020”, shows a market on the upward track. In 2014, eSports boasted 102 million viewers worldwide, a number that's set to reach 133 million this year. That means around $1 billion in just subscriptions, a development that proves some power in the market. But by way of comparison, Juniper Research also offered up two other markets: NFL tournament viewers at 220 million global unique viewers in 2014, and Formula 1 racing, at 400 million global viewers. Juniper projects that, by 2020, eSports will not only pass the levels seen by NFL viewers, but approach those of Formula 1.
With prize pools on the rise for eSports, and viewership numbers climbing as well—the League of Legends World Championships, for example, brought in better than 27 million viewers itself—calling eSports a credible sporting alternative has never sounded so rational. Advertisers are expected to take an upward turn as well, seeing revenues climb nearly 250 percent over the course of 2015 to 2020.
However, eSports has one major issue against it: public perception. Reports of players using performance-enhancing drugs is on the rise, and the Electronic Sports League (ESL) has already implemented drug screening to identify and thin out such use. This should help further drive subscriptions and advertising, helping to reach those lofty targets.
It wasn't so long ago that this kind of success was almost unimaginable in the field; it was big news enough just a couple years ago that eSports was on par with professional golf, or approaching professional hockey viewership levels. But to hear eSports talked about in the same breath as Formula 1 and NFL viewership? That's huge. This is a field that's been developing almost from scratch, and now it's starting to take on a whole new life. One major factor contributing to that success is likely the sheer accessibility of the sport; since it's mostly streamed online, it can be viewed from nearly anywhere on most any device. That's a development most major sports can't share to that extent; just ask any cable cutter who's tried to catch a certain game.
Will we one day have viewing parties for The International in the same way we do for the Super Bowl? It's not out of line at all, and based on what we know so far, we may well start hearing about professional gamers the way we hear about professional athletes now.
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