The number of esports fans spread around the world has grown by 15% to reach 454 million over the past year. That growth is expected to continue long into the future and NewZoo predicts there will be a global esports audience of 645 million by 2022.
The overwhelming majority of those viewers are teenagers and young adults. Competitive gaming is hugely popular among the youth of today, while traditional sports like baseball and golf are dwindling in popularity. Why are young people opting to watch video games rather than traditional sports or movies?
The action can be thrilling
The concept of finding entertainment in watching other people play video games against one another might seem alien to the uninitiated. However, once you get into it you will realise just how exhilarating the action can be.
The best esports are accessible games that millions of people can easily grasp and play themselves, but they come with an extremely high skill ceiling. This allows the very best players to perform feats of utter brilliance.
Viewers can aspire to be that good, but they may never make it, and they can simply marvel at the level of quality on show in a big esports event.
Anyone can bounce a ball and throw it at a hoop, but it takes phenomenal natural ability and extreme dedication to become LeBron James. Anyone can kick a ball, but few people can kick it like Cristiano Ronaldo.
It is the same with esports: anyone can play CS:GO, but very few people can achieve the things that s1mple, dev1ce and NiKo can pull off. League of Legends is great fun for beginners, but they can appreciate the level of skill on show when a leading light like Faker is in full flow.
The action is also predisposed towards being exciting: there are no dull 0-0 soccer games, no defensive shutouts, no five-day cricket Tests that end in a draw. The action is short, sharp and full of excitement, perfectly catering to the attention spans of the younger generation.
There is always something to watch
Sticking with that cricket analogy, it is frustrating when a big match is frequently delayed due to rain. That is never an issue with esports, which are played indoors. There is always something happening, somewhere in the world, so you can watch esports 24/7.
It also ties in seamlessly with the way teenagers and younger adults like to consume media. Many are unlikely to sit and watch the television or – heaven forbid – listen to the radio. They want to be streaming the action live on their computers or mobile devices, with plenty more windows open at the same time, so they can discuss the action with friends, gauge the reaction on social media and so on.
This goes back to the attention span: it is hard for youngsters that have always been given instant gratification to find the patience to watch a feature length film or watch a lengthy sporting event. Many would rather watch esports, as the figures show.
The personalities are also extremely engaging. They regularly post on social media and they engage with their fans. There are legions of supremely popular streamers that have built up huge followings on Twitch and YouTube, and they post a massive amount of content, which millions of viewers lap up.
It is dynamic and constantly improving
Esports has only really risen to prominence over the past six or seven years thanks to the rollout of high speed internet around the world. There are a few core games – League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 – but newcomers are hitting the market all the time. Overwatch, PUBG, Apex Legends and Arena of Valor are just some of the exciting new additions to the scene in recent years.
The existing titles are also constantly refined and updated too, keeping the scene dynamic, fresh and exciting. These leading esports are released on a free to play basis to ensure they reach a large audience and the developers keep them regularly updated, while charging for in-game microtransactions and making a fortune in the process.
Fans feel part of the development process, as their feedback is taken on board and the games are tweaked accordingly. The result is an exceptionally vibrant sector, with new and exciting content released on a regular basis, and there is no way for traditional sports and traditional entertainment mediums to match that.
They love betting on the action
The amount of money wagered on esports is increasing exponentially each year and the global handle is expected to hit $13 billion in 2020. The thrill associated with watching a LoL or CS:GO battle unfold is amplified enormously when you have money riding on the result, and that really helps boost viewership figures.
Esports fans often know more about the games they love than the bookmakers too, so they stand a strong chance of turning their expertise into a profit.
The esports betting platforms are also extremely sophisticated, presenting fans with a huge range of betting options. If you check out the latest esports betting odds at Unikrn, you will see League of Legends, CS:GO, Dota 2, Apex Legends, Call of Duty, FIFA, Fortnite, Hearthstone, King of Glory, NBA 2K, Overwatch, PUBG, Rainbow6, Rocket League, StarCraft II, StarCraft: Broodwar, Street Fighter V, Smash Bros., Warcraft III, Quake and World of Warcraft all covered.
You can bet on the action pre-match, in-play after it has begun, or choose from a range of futures options on big tournaments. There are also plenty of quirky special bets, like who will slay the first dragon or over and under on total kills on a particular map.
They are dreaming of striking it rich
Many people watch esports because they dream of following in the footsteps of the multimillionaire superstars they see in action. More than 40 million Fortnite players entered qualifying for this year’s World Cup, as they wanted to win the top prize of £3 million.
You would expect a large chunk of them to watch the grand finals, so they could see just how good the best in the business are, and figure out what they need to do in order to close the gap.
In many ways, it is easier to be aspirational about competitive gaming than traditional sports. If you are short, you are unlikely to make it as a pro basketball player. If you cannot run well, you will struggle to make it in the Premier League.
But almost anyone can play video games, and many fans love to see a new generation of superstars that are not hulking athletes with chiselled abs. They can often relate to their fellow gamers better than sports stars or movie stars, and that helps boost esports’ appeal.