eSports today and in the future: Streamers Assemble!

In our previous series piece, we took a long look at where eSports came from, and how it went from a humble gathering of 24 university colleagues to the global phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm. In this piece, we’ll be looking at where eSports is at the moment, and the monumental shifts over recent times.

Rise of the Streamer

The biggest game changer is obvious: Twitch. Before Twitch came around, influencers who made names for themselves producing gaming-related content mostly did so through pre-recorded let’s plays, walkthroughs, and reviews.  Twitch empowered gamers by giving them the ability to showcase their skills on livestreams and engage with their fans in real time. YouTube soon followed and introduced live broadcasts on their own platform.

While eSports had been televised before, and television channels dedicated to gaming existed, live streams are what really catapulted eSports and eAthletes to a new level. Wide swathes of people suddenly had favourite eAthletes in the same way that they had favourite YouTubers or Instagrammers. eSport teams began to grow followings by streaming practice sessions, bringing them closer to the influence that traditional sports teams enjoy. eSports teams also reaped another benefit: the access they had to potential recruits was better than it had ever been before.

The leading games of this era being army shooter Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and MOBA titles League of Legends, and DoTA 2. Not only did several eSports leagues pop up for each game, but the top live streamers of these games found themselves gaining millions of followers and subscribers.

The stats and the realities

Taking a look at 2018’s game streaming figures for non-eSport events (i.e. regular game streamers, not streams of official events) saw the number one game of that year draw in 1,636.8 million hours of content viewed. That’s 186,000 years, or roughly the amount of time modern humans have existed.

If that number isn’t impressive enough, EMarketer forecast that advertising revenue for non-eSport event streams this year will reach close to $1.8 billion, while the predicted ad revenues for eSports event streams is starkly contrasted at just $178 million.

What these figures tell us, however, is that the current state of eSports is heavily tied to influencer culture in a way that traditional sports isn’t. For example, Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, one of Twitch’s top streamers, has over 14 million followers and has been estimated to earn over $500,000 a month from streaming alone. His earnings for 2018 have been reported to be in the $10 million range, with most of that coming from work done in the comfort of his own home.

As we get closer to 2020 a lot of the stigma of being a professional gamer (whether Pro-eAthlete or Live Streamer) is falling away. Some colleges and universities are giving scholarships to eAthletes.  Even some parentingblogs are now reassuring mums and dads that playing video games for a living is something their kids can realistically hope to achieve.

The burgeoning beginnings of mobile

While PC-based eSports are dominating the Western World, mobile-based eSports are King in the East. Asia’s eSports environment is distinctly different from the West’s in that their biggest eSports are actually mobile titles, with the exceptions of Japan and Korea. While Korea might go crazy for Starcraft, China sticks to mobile MOBAs and card games.

Mobile-based eSports are slowly growing in the West too, with ESports Insider predicting that 2019 will be the year they truly penetrate the western markets. The top mobile eSports titles, at the time of writing are: Vainglory, a MOBA that has been around since 2014; freemium strategy title Clash Royale, and MOBA Arena of Valor (a Western rebrand of popular Asian title ‘Honor of Kings’).

In the US, the top ten mobile eSports champions for 2018 took home a combined $8 million, with 7 of those champions being women. While mobile eSports might not yet have the glitz, glam, and popularity of PC eSports, the ubiquity of mobile technology means that it’s an area of near limitless potential.

Only time will tell, though, as predictions surrounding VR changing the eSports landscape have been around for years, and that doesn’t even seem close to happening. Though surely the sheer accessibility of mobile titles definitely helps stack the odds in their favour.

The Sports vs eSports divide

While eAthlete earnings and eSports viewing numbers are what many see as the key metrics for measuring eSports against traditional sports, we need to not forget another major revenue stream in sports entertainment: betting. Sportsbook betting has been around forever, it seems, and in most places around the world people have plethoras of options at their fingertips for being able to get in on the action.

Obviously, traditional brick and mortar bookmakers are all over the world, such as the UK and Ireland’s massive PaddyPower chain; however online sportsbook betting has been slowly overtaking brick and mortar institutions for years now. A quick Googling of “Sportsbook Betting” will throw up hundreds of different online vendors to help you place your bets from anywhere in the world, even during your morning commute.

eSports betting in early 2018 was in a period of relative infancy, but a short year and a half later, and eSports betting is already a lot closer to resembling traditional Sportsbook than anyone could have predicted. According to a report by software analytics company Narus and research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, global wagering on eSports betting had already hit $5.5 billion in 2016, and is projected to skyrocket to around $13 billion by 2020.

While this might not be in the same league as the $49-70 billion in wagers for football (according to a 2013 BBC report), a figure like $13 billion is certainly nothing to sneeze at. While eSports sportsbook betting might not profit the eAthletes, game publishers, or eSport leagues directly, it does serve as a great indicator as to the kind of money people are willing to put behind the sport, which forecasts a bright future ahead for the industry.

eSports is even beginning to see the quiet rumblings of fantasy leagues being set up, again mirroring traditional sports. Draftkings have been offering a League of Legends fantasy league since all the way back in 2015, and AlphaDraft previously offering both League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive before closing down.

In terms of where we go from here, it’s clear that direct comparisons between traditional sports and eSports aren’t as straightforward as we’d think. The influencer factor being the main differentiator means that this might be the turning point where eSports starts to truly start forging its own, unique path.

eAthlete streamers are being given access to more and more revenue streams, such as direct sponsorships, product placements, tournament winnings, affiliate links, fan donations, monthly subscriptions, Patreon, merchandising, and even new online services such as ours: Gimbl.

Gimbl gives viewers the opportunity to bet on streams, and is distinctly different from traditional sportsbook betting. Viewers will get to set challenges for streamers by providing financial incentives, and will be able to place pari-mutuel bets against each other on things like ranking, death count, kills, etc. before a session starts, and a combination of software, recording reviews, and user moderators will ensure that all outcomes are completely accurate. Streamers will get a small cut of each pot wagered on them, meaning that they have a new way to both increase their earnings and interact with their fan communities.

The Journey ahead

Tournament winnings and team salaries are rising, the streaming market is going from strength to strength, meaning our outlook for the future is definitely bright. Whether you’re eagerly awaiting a mobile boom, holding your breath for a VR takeover, or you’re the one to make the next Fortnite, I think we can all agree that when it comes to the future of eSports, anything can happen.

With innovative companies such as DraftKings and ourselves offering unique services, we can expect a lot of interesting things to come in the world of eSports in the rest of 2019 and beyond.

Further Reading

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