29 March 2021
Global esports revenues grew to $1.1bn in 2020, up from $950m in 2019, and the global esports audience currently sits at an estimated 495 million people
The convergence of blockchain, cryptocurrency and gaming industries has sparked a revolution toward transparent and open digital asset markets.
Streaming services, high-speed internet and corporate sponsorships have propelled the esports industry to new heights in the past decade.
Esports are still considered a somewhat new phenomenon, but the industry can trace its roots to Stanford University in the1970s, where staff hosted a small tournament for a game called Spacewar.
Fast forward 50 years, and esports is a global sensation.
There are still plenty of traditional sports pundits shrugging off esports as playing second fiddle to ‘real sports’, but the industry is gaining wider acceptance, particularly in Asia. In 2017, the International Olympic Committee commented that esports could be considered a sporting activity, as the players train in a way comparable to athletes competing in traditional sports.
A report released by Newzoo indicated the upward trend esports has travelled on in the past decade is set to continue. Global esports revenues grew to $1.1bn in 2020, up from $950m in 2019, and the global esports audience currently sits at an estimated 495 million people (2020).
Understandably, prize pools took a hit in 2020 due to the pandemic, but the total prize money won in 2019 across all esports was an enormous $235m, up from $164m the previous year.
The Newzoo report also highlighted a spike in interest in mobile esports, particularly in Southeast Asia, India and Brazil. While many of the most popular mobile gaming esports are versions of PC and console games like PUBG, Fortnite and Call of Duty, some mobile-only games prove extremely popular for esports.
Free Fire is one such mobile game, which in 2019 became the most downloaded mobile game globally and currently has a daily player base of roughly 80m people. Escharts reports that in 2019 Free Fire was the third most-watched mobile Esport, behind PUBG Mobile and Arena of Valor.
Arena of Valor is a 5v5 multiplayer online battle arena game similar to Dota 2 and League of Legends with a monthly player count of 20m people. The total prize money earned in Arena of Valor is just under $15m, and the game enjoyed a peak viewership of 764,358 people during the World Cup 2019.
We can’t talk about live streaming esports without talking about Twitch.
Twitch and esports tournament organisers have worked side by side since 2011, helping streamers and tournament hosts reach viewers globally. Live streaming functionality is now regularly built into games and even consoles. Many previously anonymous streamers like Mixer and Shroud are now global celebrities in their own right.
Twitch now has an esports directory as part of the desktop client to make things easier for fans. All the most prominent gaming names have their major tournaments viewable for free on Twitch, including Dota 2, League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Fortnite.
According to Twitchtracker.com, the site now has an average viewership of 2.92m - a 1300% increase since 2013, with just under 2bn hours watched in February 2021 and nearly 10m streamers.
2020 was a challenging year for every industry, and esports was no different. In the previous year, prize pools reached astronomical levels. Fortnite hosted 393 separate tournaments, with players competing for a total prize pool of over $71m.
While viewer numbers continued to rise, prize pools have shrunk quite dramatically. But, nobody expects this to be a permanent drop - as soon as LAN tournaments resume, prize pools will likely return to 2019 levels.
Judging by prize money, the most popular esport in 2020 was Counter-Strike Global Offensive (CSGO), in which the top players shared in a $14.75m prize pool. Dota 2 and League of Legends came in second and third places with just over $8m in prizes each.
Through corporate sponsorships and crowdfunding, the Dota 2 International tournaments have posted the most significant prizes across all esports since 2015. In 2019, the prize pool sat pretty at over $30m, which was won dramatically by team OG.
Despite not having the largest tournament prize pools, League of Legends was undoubtedly the most watched game worldwide in 2020. There are currently over 100m active players, and the League of Legends Worlds 2020 was watched live by nearly 4 million people - roughly the population of Croatia.
Surprisingly, the following three most watched esports tournaments in 2020 were all for mobile games: Mobile Legends, Free Fire and PUBG Mobile, all with over 1 million live viewers.
It’s all but certain that as soon as LAN tournaments resume, esports will pick up where they left off at the end of 2019.
To describe StarCraft II as “popular” in South Korea would be doing the developers a disservice. The game is so ridiculously popular that it’s considered part of the culture. The game is often referred to as the nation’s pastime and a going pro is considered a perfectly normal career.
The Korean Air Force even has its own Starcraft II team, so pro players don’t have to give up playing when completing their compulsory two-year national service. StarCraft tournaments have been televised since 2000 and now even have dedicated TV channels and leagues.
PC component and peripheral manufacturers have sponsored esports teams for quite some time. Big corporate names like Red Bull, IBM and Marvel Entertainment are now starting to support esports teams and events as well.
Thanks to increased exposure and sponsorship, professional gamer’s earnings have risen to new heights in 2020, although this is primarily concentrated in a few games. Every player in the top 50 all-time esports earners made their living playing one of three games: Dota 2, CSGO and Fortnite. The top 31 spots are all held by Dota 2 players.
Developers are increasingly producing games with esports in mind, knowing that tournaments with large prize pools are a great way to boost their player base and increase their games exposure.
The esports industry could eventually reach a plateau, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. The future is bright for esports.
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