In the 2017 Internet Trends Report, Mary Meeker reported a 40% growth in global eSports viewership year over year. The gaming world has also grown from 100 million to 2.6 billion users since 1995, and Meeker predicts that number will continue to rapidly rise.
What is it about eSports, otherwise called interactive gaming, that draws in so many, and how will it affect traditional sports viewership? Let’s look below at the factors that have allowed eSports to blossom in popularity and why the trend could cause traditional sports to become less appealing.
In 2000, 48% of Americans were not using the internet—that statistic changed to just 13% in 2016, according to a study from Pew Research Center. So it’s not surprising that eSports have become more popular, simply because they’re more easily accessible.
The majority of Americans online these days is likely also using internet speeds that allow for a quality gaming experience. The FCC reported that the national median speed for internet consumers was 39 Mbps, and a good gaming experience requires just 20 Mbps, a speed that is easily available in most residential areas.
Gaming exploded in popularity when it evolved into online gaming. Previously, gaming was a solo experience that you most likely participated in from your living room. If you were lucky, your console could accommodate a maximum of three other people who could play with you at your house.
Once online gaming became an option, people could play with all their friends, each from their own homes. Now, the excitement and popularity has grown even more—people attend live gaming events in arenas that can hold thousands of spectators. Online gaming is a very social activity that has a strong sense of community.
“I’ve made the argument over the last few years that games are essentially cheaper than they’ve ever been,” says Colin Moriarty, senior editor of IGN.com. “This isn't to say that salaries (or hourly pay) have kept up with inflation and the cost of living—it decidedly hasn't—but it is to say that, dollar to dollar over the past 35 years, gaming hardware and software is generally cheaper than ever.”
Long story short, you’re much more likely to find gaming equipment in American households today than you were 35 years ago.
Why eSports Might Slowly Dominate Over Traditional Sports
There are some fundamental differences between eSports and traditional sports that highlight how and why eSports may slowly become more popular.
Traditional sports viewership resides majorly on a national level. eSports, on the other hand, maintain a global audience. Gamers in China can play with American gamers on a daily basis. Viewers from across the globe tune in to watch major competitions.
This worldwide reach makes for a bigger community, more competition, and overall more options and opportunity.
Along with a bigger community comes a wider range of gaming levels. While there are many who play and watch games in traditional sports, it’s a lot harder to mix and mingle with higher-level players than it is in eSports.
For example, in eSports, you might find yourself gaming with one of the highest-ranked players in the world. In traditional sports, you’re a lot less likely to walk onto the football field and play, say, Tom Brady.
Because eSports are a more inclusive and welcoming activity and because players are more likely to rise through the ranks of the game, people probably find participating easier and more appealing.
The eSports industry is still in its infancy. It isn’t bogged down by overbearing regulations and money-hungry people—yet—whereas traditional sports in the U.S. have become such a money-making business, some feel it’s losing its touch.
Unlike traditional sports, eSports aren’t restricted by on and off seasons. This year-round availability likely decreases the chances of people losing interest in the events since they don’t have to go through waiting periods until their favorite games start up again.
Although eSports viewership is still far from matching that of traditional sports, it’s something to keep in mind as our world becomes more interconnected and tech savvy.