If you were to mention “esports” today, many people would still tilt their head in confusion. If you were to go on and explain that esports is the collective term for competitive video game tournaments, they may giggle at you. And if you were to insist that professionals dedicate their lives to becoming the greatest at a game, they may call you delusional.
However, that is the truth. The esports industry is booming right now as titles such as League of Legends, Overwatch, FIFA and DotA 2 are attracting massive investment from all corners of the business world. Esports athletes now earn substantial salaries in exchange for their services, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, who many consider to be the best League of Legends player in the world earns upwards of $2.5M a year, that’s more than an average NFL player. Even players on poor teams in a mediocre league such as the North American league can expect to earn at least $320,000 a year.
Massive money is now on the line at these events; the reward for being the best is sizeable. The winning team of DotA 2’s “The International 2018” won $10.8M to share amongst themselves. However, the majority of revenue for teams is not coming from their winnings. The fanbase for esports is exploding in growth, the “League of Legends 2018 World Championship” had 44 million unique viewers watch the finals. The aforementioned International 2018 had 14 million unique viewers throughout the whole event. These numbers have spurred investors onwards and as a result ridiculous amounts of money are now being thrown around.
For example, this year Blizzard (the creators of Overwatch) launched the inaugural season of the “Overwatch League”, a weekly league style format that pits the best Overwatch has to offer against each other each week. It currently takes place solely in Los Angeles but each team involved has agreed to begin building an arena in their city of choice so eventually home and away style games may be held. Just playing in this league would cost team owners between $10M-$20M up front. Many thought this was crazy money but Blizzard had no problem finding willing investors.
Stan Kroenke, owner of Arsenal FC and the Los Angeles Rams christened his Overwatch team the “LA Gladiators”. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots called his the “Boston Uprising”. Sterling.VC, venture capitalists involved with the New York Mets titled theirs the “New York Excelsior”. These are just three of the twelve teams that took part in the first season which saw its finals sell out the Barclays Centre. This gravy train has not stopped flowing for Blizzard either as eight new teams have paid between $30M-$60M to participate in the second season of Overwatch League which begins in February, these teams come from across China, Canada, the U.S and Europe.
The industry is showing no signs of slowing down as new games such as Rainbow Six: Siege, Smash: Ultimate and not to mention Fortnite have begun picking up steam. Ireland is starting to witness the esports boom as well as organisers are keen to take advantage of the existing market. “Estars”, an emerging tournament organiser with large backing are holding a Fortnite tournament at Croke Park in February. “RAID”, veterans of the Irish esports scene hold tournaments in Dublin for multiple games throughout the year.
Esports earned almost $1B in revenue just in 2018 and this statistic is projected to rise to $1.5B by 2020. The future of esports is looking bright… and profitable.