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eSports as big as NFL by 2017?

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eSports is a big deal. Its following is increasing which makes sense considering the growth in game streaming in general as well – people want to watch their favourite games and players together, and have a side chat with both the streamers and other fans. The eSports market is already worth $194 million per year, but it’s set to more than double by 2017.

According to a new report from Newzoo, the figures are analogous to athletic sports like ice hockey and American football – that’s right, there could be as many people watching eSports in 2017 as there are watching NFL now.

In terms of audience, the number of esports Enthusiasts will jump from 89 million last year to 145 million in 2017. Another 190 million will watch esports competitions occasionally, showing that competitive gaming has evolved to a Spectator Sport with a fan base comparable to that of Volleyball, American Football or Ice Hockey. Following a year of explosive growth in audience and money involved, 2015 will be pivotal in determining the future of esports.

Of course, with that rise in popularity comes a rise in monetary value. The report estimates that eSports could be worth as much as $1 billion by 2017, although even the conservative scenario predicts a value of $465 million in that time frame. Not too shabby. Most interesting, though, is the shift in revenue for eSports. It started as a unique model and is slowly moving towards a more traditional sports model.

The revenue mix of esports and sports is a key differentiator between the two markets. eSports, which is a product of a digital age, gets 34 per cent of its revenues from online advertising and still relies on the investment of game publishers. This money is indirectly recouped by the publishers through spending on or in their games. Now, esports is quickly evolving into a business of its own. Many sponsors are jumping on board and consumers are contributing to championship prize pools and paying to attend online or real-life events. As the esports market matures, its revenue mix will closer resemble that of traditional sports which saw 57 per cent of revenues come from sponsorships and selling media rights in 2014.

Sponsorships are a big deal and hopefully eSports viewers are proving that even though the content is streamed online, it’s still worthwhile to advertise. I think a lot of brands still believe in TV and print when the future has already moved towards online media. But it’s not just brands who need to get involved – it’s making me happy to see just how many games are building in spectator modes, competitive options and statistics just so that viewers can pick apart what they’re watching on the eSports side. I’m excited to watch this budding industry blossom. Plus, I’m eternally curious about prize pools and team drama; just like with athletics, it’s not the actual performance that draws me in, but all the commentary around it.

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Last Updated: February 18, 2015

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