Video game competitions have always been popular. You can trace the roots of esports back to the early 1970s when a burgeoning gaming community held tournaments to decide who the best players were. Pundits comment on the viewership figures for exports these days, but that interest in watching gamers is nothing new if you look back to those early events.
But there is also no doubt that esports is enjoying a rise in popularity. More people than ever are competing, watching, and investing in esports and this trend only seems to be continuing. The next few years could see an even bigger explosion in esports popularity, rivaling traditional sports. But how did we get to this point? And what does the future hold?
Gaming and Viewership
One of the biggest reasons why esports is enjoying such a popularity surge is that so many more people are able to watch events. The number of gamers has been increasing as well, but reports have shown that over 540 million people watched esports in 2023. That figure is set to rise to around 640 million by 2025.
This was a rising trend before COVID. But, after a brief lull due to the fact that events could not be staged, the viewing figures have risen ever since. The pandemic did turn more people onto esports, as other more traditional sports floundered, and now those new fans are eager to see their heroes in the flesh.
Esports games are just much more accessible these days. There are more platforms and more ways to play and watch these games. Twitch is obviously still a market leader in watching esports events – but there are other platforms that have also seen huge increases in viewership.
Increased coverage of the top tournaments has brought more investment into esports. This becomes a circle of growth as each element helps grow the market even further. With more ways of playing games also available – consoles, phones, PCs – there are so many more ways to access esports these days.
Although more conservative and traditional media commentators may still regard esports and gaming as something for children, there is no doubt that there has been a shift in the way people think about the subject. As the prize money for events has risen, young fans can now see esports as a viable career option.
Many fans will still regard esports as a pastime, of course. But there is the opportunity to be more involved. This doesn’t have to be just playing the games. With a growing community building more businesses related to esports, the chance to work in the industry seems more of an option.
Crossover with Traditional Sports
The increased popularity of esports has not escaped those involved in more traditional sports. This is especially true for soccer. The massively popular FIFA game has now been a bona fide esport for years and soccer clubs, leagues and other organizations have seen the advantage of getting involved.
Existing clubs now have their own esports teams that play in competitions sanctioned by the official bodies of the game and there has been an attempt to use fan bases to see these gamers as another element of the club. Esports could also even be in the Olympics soon – a move that would surely see another upturn in gaming and viewership numbers.
The Future – Taking Over?
All the aspects of esports’ rise in popularity are also indicators of how it could rival traditional sports in the coming years. A lot of times this is an entirely new demographic being attracted to sports and that is on top of the millions of people who already enjoy sports competitions.
Greater investment – from both the gaming and traditional sports worlds – will make the tournaments even more popular and more accessible. It may not be that esports takes over but that it becomes part of the wider sports world – and is treated by the mainstream media in the same way very soon.