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Why esports is the next subculture you need to be tapped into

12th April 2021

The rise of esports started as something of a surprise back in the early days of Halo and Counterstrike LAN parties, when groups of gamers would link up a series of computers and game consoles to compete for bragging rights. What began as a subculture of social gatherings, huddled around monitors with an ocean of cables, desperate to get a stable deathmatch of Quake running, has exploded into one of the fastest growing sport industries in the world.

But gaming as a culture began as an insular enterprise, often missed by the mainstream and even disparaged by traditional sports communities. This is no longer the case; gaming has expanded above the film and music industry in terms of revenue, and has become one of the most important parts of youth culture in recent years. With this a tremendous demand for legitimacy has developed.

This is where esports has found its niche, combining the demanding play-by-play of a high stakes gaming session with the grandeur of a stadium and prize pools in the millions, putting it in the same league as the world’s biggest sports events.

But why esports, and why now? What has motivated this sudden shift in perspective that has led to billions of dollars of investment and millions of worldwide fans seemingly appearing overnight? 

The answer is actually quite simple, it’s a generational shift. As the audience for video games matures, they enter the consumer market with a cultural foundation informed by a childhood of socialising and learning with video games. Unlike previous generations that experienced a more insular industry, younger consumers have lived through a cross platform revolution, where gaming has been an ever present theme on social media, film, television to such a degree that it has become an innate part of their development. As a result, videogames are an inseparable part of their identity, similar to how other generations in the UK felt that playing football with friends was to theirs. The global video gaming industry took in an estimated $180bn in 2020 – more than sports and movies worldwide (Source: IDC Data).

This has provided the bedrock to allow esports to become the industry it is today, an enterprise that is perfectly setup for success in the modern age. Short, high intensity matches that replace a corner with a headshot and high risk plays that can make or break a match in seconds. It’s an adrenaline fueled and highly emotional spectator event that in my opinion, has no comparison in the traditional sporting world. 

And with a younger, vocal pool of talented professional gamers, the industry has perfectly imbedded itself in a world of streaming and social media. Fans have never been able to get closer and engage so much with their favourite stars; heroes that are close to their own age and interests. These players are young, ambitious stars who balance school work and international championships in the same week, walking away with hundreds of thousands of pounds in winnings. No matter what, esports always has a story to tell.

Overall, the industry has seen exponential growth in the last few years, with even greater opportunities to extend its mainstream appeal throughout 2021. Due to new tournaments, leagues, games and industry investment, the audience for esports is more diverse than ever before, appealing to both players and spectators alike. The number of esports fans globally is estimated to be around 495m and over 223m of these fans self-identify as enthusiastic and frequent viewers. What’s more, this number is projected to hit 646m by 2023 (Source: Newzoo).

As esports is where the audiences are, we have seen strong interest from partners who are excited by where the industry is today, as well as its potential for future expansion. A high level of confidence in esports has already been shown by global corporate sponsors and some of the biggest tournaments attract big-name brands, such as Red Bull, Adidas and IBM. Recently, our client Guild Esports signed a groundbreaking sponsorship deal with Subway which will enhance the growth of the org as it expands its Academy programme. The potential for the sector is huge and it rivals traditional sports in terms of viewership, tournament winnings and followers, and with more investors and sponsors realising this, the possibilities are virtually endless.

Esports has created what could become one of the most profitable and engaged subcultures ever formed. The future of the industry is seemingly infinite. Now well on the way to outpace traditional sports enterprises, you can’t afford not to be paying attention.

Niall De’Ath is an Account Manager at Alfred London