Every industry is feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and esports is no exception. As people around the world find themselves with more free time, fans are watching more content than before and new viewers are taking up the hobby either as a replacement for traditional sports events that have been cancelled or just as a new genre of entertainment to consume. The coronavirus has still introduced challenges to esports growth and big in-person events have been canceled, but as a whole the industry continues to thrive.
An industry on the rise
Esports growth is expected to continue over the next several years, with a predicted increase of over $1.4 billion by 2024. The 2020 growth rate is estimated at 25%, with more than a third of that coming from North America as the region becomes more aware of and invested in esports events. The coronavirus will help drive this growth in the short term, but even after the pandemic has passed, the global esports market can expect to continue growing despite some potential lost viewers.
As traditional sports events are cancelled, esports picks up new viewers
The halt in traditional sports games and coverage has given esports access to a bigger audience around the world. Traditional sports fans are turning to esports for their entertainment, and some TV networks are broadcasting esports tournaments to fill timeslots left empty by other sporting events. While many viewers may abandon esports once their favorite sports resume, this is still an opportunity for the market to pick up many new fans who will maintain their interest after the pandemic.
Traditional sports leagues are also venturing into the realm of esports as a way to continue operating during COVID-19. Football’s Premier League, NASCAR, and other sports organizations have begun holding virtual events in sports video games, where professional athletes play against each other in the virtual world rather than the physical one. View numbers vary significantly depending on the event, with the ePremier League Invitational bringing in only 52,000 viewers while the eNASCAR Series drew over 1.3 million. For comparison, popular esports events for games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) or League of Legends (LoL) see concurrent viewer numbers ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions, with total unique views in the tens of millions.
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While this may look bad for some of the traditional sports events that have moved online, those events don’t need to beat the numbers hit by big esports games to be worthwhile for the organizers or players. They provide opportunities for players and teams to reach their fans and potentially attract new ones while physical games aren’t possible, as well as to still fulfill obligations to sponsors through this alternative content.
There are of course challenges to this strategy as well, as many athletes will not necessarily be familiar with or good at the video game version of their sport, and also may not be used to having an online presence and the different types of visibility it brings. Some NASCAR drivers, for example, have already faced suspensions, bans, or loss of sponsorships due to poor behavior or racist remarks during live online tournaments. Teams and organizations need to find game and tournament styles that work for their players, and set clear rules and expectations for player behavior.
COVID-19 setbacks hit the market
Despite the advantages of increased viewership and events that largely take place online, there are some challenges to esports growth during the pandemic. Even though the games are played digitally, live events are still a significant part of the esports experience. These events can include musical performances, meet-and-greets, booths for activities and merchandise, and a live audience that adds energy and excitement for both the players and the viewers who are watching from home.
While some of these events have been moved online, many have been cancelled outright, and the online events obviously lack the sales opportunities and extra content of their live counterparts. The loss of these events means millions of dollars in lost revenue, and while that may only be a small hit for an industry that’s worth billions, it’s still a hindrance to esports growth in 2020.
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COVID-19 can also pose challenges and setbacks for individual esports teams, many of whom have needed to rework their training routines and other operations. This can cause lapses in performance as team members adjust to working together remotely. However, this depends on individual teams and their training methods, as others have found that transitioning to distance training did not impact their performance.
So what will the industry look like once the pandemic ends, people go back to work, and traditional sports events resume? The esports industry as a whole likely won’t be impacted by the loss of viewers – it was already growing substantially before the pandemic, and it may retain new viewers who started watching when they had free time and became long-term fans. In addition, the industry will regain a revenue stream that it lost when live events were canceled.
The outlook is less positive for traditional sports that migrated to online video game tournaments: while some events may continue, they won’t be the main area of focus for these sports organizations, and many viewers who began watching esports due to the lack of traditional sports broadcasts will likely abandon the virtual version in favor of the physical. Many of these online events won’t have the staying power that major esports games such as CS:GO can boast. However, as a temporary replacement for live sporting events, they can be a fun and practical way to keep both fans and players occupied, generate some revenue, and keep sponsors happy.
Discover other opportunities, challenges, and trends in the global esports industry with Technavio’s market research report, which includes insights such as:
- CAGR of the market during the forecast period 2020-2024
- Detailed information on factors that will drive esports growth during the next five years
- Precise estimation of the esports market size and its contribution to the parent market
- In-depth predictions on upcoming trends and changes in consumer behavior
- The growth of the esports market industry across APAC, Europe, MEA, North America, and South America
- A thorough analysis of the market’s competitive landscape and detailed information on vendors
- Comprehensive details of factors that will challenge the growth of esports market vendors