E-sports is here to stay with huge potential for further growth

In the final part of an e-sports series, SCMP Sport looks at how the online and global phenomenon still lags behind traditional sports in revenue and also lacks superstars who can bring it to the mainstream

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 August, 2017, 10:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 August, 2017, 10:18am

In business terms, there is huge amount of room for growth in the e-sports space. When it comes to the development of e-sports competition and the games that it is based around, the future is boundless.

By 2020 e-sports revenues are forecast to grow to US$1.5 billion, and the fan base is predicted to reach nearly 600 million. Current revenue per fan is US$3.65, and this is expected to reach US$5.20 by 2020. However, this is nothing compared to the extent which traditional sports have been monetised. Revenue per fan in the NBA is more than US$15, while in the most commercialised league in the world, the NFL, it is more than US$60.

To drive further monetisation, many e-sports organisations and businesses are looking to the well-worn path that traditional sports has worn. Broadcasting rights, merchandising and ticket-sales are all attractive options, however, they’re often dependant on factors which have yet to develop in the current e-sports scene: affiliation to local teams and team loyalty in general.

E-sports is an online and global phenomenon. Fans don’t necessarily identify with teams that are closest to them geographically, and loyalties often lie with individuals or groups of players, rather than the team organisations they play for.

While players are the focus of fans respect, the idolisation of top professionals seen in traditional sports has yet to reach e-sports. Celebrity – and more precisely the role it plays in driving revenue through advertising and sales – is as yet undeveloped in e-sports. There are a handful of figures, like Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, with enough clout to sell tickets, but the scene still hasn’t found a star like Beckham or Curry who can bring e-sports to the mainstream.

In terms of infrastructure and development of support frameworks, inclusion in international sporting competitions like the 2020 Asian Games will be welcome publicity and recognition for e-sports. But these mechanisms which play such a pivotal role in the popularisation of sports will likely contribute to a lesser extent in e-sports.

Slow-moving and old-fashioned government and legacy international sports organisations will find it extremely difficult to keep pace with the rapidly changing and complex nature of e-sports.

A tiny number of e-sports titles, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have proven to have real staying power, and the ability to dominate a genre and audience over extended periods of time.

E-sports is here to stay; it’s time we got familiar with it

In the two to three years between the time decisions are made on which game to include in an event and when it finally takes place, fickle e-sports fans may have already moved on to the next game. It seems that either these institutions will need to change, or e-sports will have to go its own way.

The rate of change in e-sports will present serious obstacles for non-endemic organisations, and massive opportunities for e-sports endemics and a few early adopters. However, the addition of new e-sports is perhaps the most exciting aspect of its future.

New genres and games are being added at an incredible rate, and often at very short notice. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, for example, which is not yet even officially launched, has jumped to the number two spot in Twitch viewership since going into beta earlier this year.

When imagining future e-sports, upgraded versions of sci-fi and fantasy first-person shooters or multiplayer battle genres naturally spring to mind, but many are more interested in the possibilities the underlying fundamentals of game play present.

Unlike traditional sports which have always been limited by immutable forces like gravity and the limits of the human body, e-sports are bound only by imagination and the agility of the mind.

Who are the most influential figures in the e-sports industry?

E-sports’ base in technology grants it the ability to create any kind of world and system of rules within which to compete. Physics and the capabilities of players can be altered at will, and the possibilities grow in tandem with new developments in technology.

Location and size pose no obstacle to e-sports. E-sports competitors can be in the same room, or on opposite sides of the world. Competition can be individual or it can include hundreds, or even thousands of participants. Mass participation and location based games like Google’s Ingress are a taste of the possibilities.

Even the time it takes to play a game is up for change. If cricket can take many days, then an e-sport can too. Match-times stretching days or even longer are possible if the aim and game play is compelling enough.

As e-sports matures more mainstream-friendly genres will likely emerge, too. With current e-sports fans growing up and beginning to raise their own little e-sports fans, many titles will be unsuitable for family e-sports. We’ve already seen the beginnings of this shift with Blizzard’s Overwatch. The creators of Overwatch have previously stated that creating a game they were comfortable sharing with their children was one of the key factors in the game’s tone, which is less violent and overtly sexual than what is common in many games.

Many things are possible, but certainly, the most interesting developments in e-sports wait in its future.