Top Five Takeaways from the eSports Popularity Study

By Jeff Francis
Top five eSports popularity study takeaways

Just a few years ago on one of the ESPN channels, a member of a sports journalists panel brought up the topic of eSports and its growing popularity. The reaction from the other journalists was laughter and utter condescension towards eSports and its fans. They refused to even consider that immensely popular mmo games and shooters of a competitive nature to be worthy of any attention at all. But, oh, how the tables are turning. ESPN is losing about 10,000 subscribers a day, and ratings for many traditional sports are down. A new study on eSports popularity by LEK Consulting was very eye-opening, to say the least. Let's dive into some facts and discuss our top five eSports popularity survey takeaways.

The first of our top five eSports popularity survey takeaways is that eSports is catching up to traditional sports. This is due to the millennial crowd (roughly 17 to 34). Older generations still love traditional sports (football, baseball, hockey, and basketball), but millennials are actually pretty evenly split. The study found that 40% of millennials preferred eSports while 42% of millennials favored traditional sports. This is a pretty staggering statistic as it shows a monumental shift within a generation or two. While older generations have no clue that games like SMITE or World of Tanks exist, younger people are playing and watching them by the tens of millions.

The second of our top five eSports popularity study takeaways is that the money associated with eSports will continue to grow. It's estimated that pro gaming events will generate close to $700 million this year alone (and that number does not include the over one billion dollars that League of Legends will raise by itself or the actual gross profits of other eSports titles). It is true that traditional sports will continue to generate more revenue than eSports for the foreseeable future, but there is cause for some concern. The older generations who love their football and basketball are dying off, and the millennial crowd will supplant Generation X and the Baby Boomers as the driving consumer base. The older crop of millennials are reaching a stage in life where they can spend more due to being in the work force for some time, and the next crop of millennials is right behind them. As this group is not tied exclusively to traditional sports, a portion of their income will be spent towards eSports and advertisers will begin using eSports as a viable marketing platform to reach this demographic.

The next of our top five eSports popularity study takeaways is that TV is dying, which is bad news for traditional sports. The study by LEK Consulting shows that people who are 65-and-over average about 450 minutes of TV watching per day. By contrast, TV viewing by those age 18 to 24 is less than 300 minutes. This number drops even farther for those between the ages of 25 to 34 as they average 250 minutes of TV viewing per day. The reason for this is the use of mobile technology and computers. Young people are very comfortable playing games and watching movies and shows on electronic devices instead of their living room TV. This is clearly evident by the explosion of mobile games over the last few years, not to mention streaming services like Netflix and Twitch. The fact that TV is dying is also important because....

Traditional sports are in big trouble, which is the fourth of our top five eSports popularity study takeaways. The major sports (baseball, football, etc.) and their broadcast partners (major networks, ESPN, etc.) are locked into deals that are not sustainable. ESPN is paying the NFL almost $2 billion a year to broadcast a handful of games, and all the main networks are shelling out big money as well. However, people are cutting the cord and switching over to streaming to reduce their monthly bill. This is killing the networks who are broadcasting the games, which can be seen by the recent massive layoffs at ESPN. The fact that younger people are quite happy to watch streaming Overwatch matches or DOTA 2 tournaments instead of Monday Night Football is digging into the viewership numbers. This causes the networks to lose money as that they are increasingly having to refund advertisers for not reaching viewership goals. Plus, it costs a hell of a lot less to develop and run an eSports game than it does to purchase and operate a traditional sports franchise. (For example, the NFL salary cap per team was $155,270,000 in 2016, and this amount was only for players and not coaches and other team personnel!)

The last of our top five eSports popularity takeaways is that traditional sports will have to take a page out of the eSports playbook in order to keep pace. As the newer generations turn to their electronic devices and online content for entertainment, traditional sports is going to have to adapt. You can see this a bit with the NFL streaming some games last year on Twitter. However, eSports has a huge presence online as that's where they exist in the first place. Pro gamers are usually pretty active on social media, streaming practice games and chatting with fans. Those who love eSports can easily watch live tournaments from around the world or watch archived videos at a later time without having to pay for the privilege. Traditional sports has to find a way to be more accessible to people under 40 and package their content in a way that is desirable to those who regularly use their computers or mobile devices for entertainment instead of their TV.

As you can see from our top five eSports popularity study takeaways, traditional sports does have their work cut out for them. People between the ages of 17 and 34 are essentially tied between preferring traditional sports or eSports, and the advantage for eSports grows even more with those who are younger. The entertainment and viewing habits of millennials is drastically different from older generations, which serves to put a strain upon traditional sports and their broadcast partners. By contrast, increasing technology, the growing economic power of millennials, and streaming continue to push eSports to even loftier positions. I'm not saying that the growing eSports popularity means that traditional sports will be wiped out, but there is no denying that there is definite trouble on the horizon. The reality is that traditional sports are going to have to adapt to the virtual world that the games associated with eSports currently dominate. I'm pretty sure that those laughing guys at ESPN aren't laughing now.


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