The global video gaming industry saw revenue surge 20% to $179.7 billion in 2020 after Covid-19 lockdowns boosted demand, according to IDC data. Newzoo analysts expect revenue to increase to $189.3 billion in 2021, with the number of gamers rising to 2.8 billion.
There are several reasons for this remarkable growth, including the inexorable rise of mobile gaming, next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft, the trend for home entertainment and the enduring popularity of Fortnite. Yet the greatest contributor could be the flourishing esports sector, which has been one of the greatest economic success stories in recent times.
The global esports audience has enjoyed double-digit growth on an annual basis over the past decade. It reached 458.3 million in 2019, according to Newzoo, which projected that the viewership figure would grow 11.7% to 495 million in 2020. However, it later revised those estimates, claiming that “the global quarantine has led to higher viewership, and we expect many new viewers to enter the market”.
It is therefore safe to assume that the global audience for competitive gaming went past 500 million in 2020, and it should break through the 550 million barrier this year. Newzoo estimates that it will reach 646 million by 2023.
A Wealth of Choice
League of Legends remains the most popular esport – insight from Unikrn shows that the LOL World Championship saw viewing hours rise to 139 million last year – but the number of games enjoyed by esports enthusiasts continues to spiral.
CS:GO, Dota 2, Valorant, Overwatch, Rainbow 6, Apex Legends, Call of Duty, PUBG, Fortnite, Starcraft 2, Rocket League, Honor of Kings and Hearthstone, are all extremely popular, along with sports games like FIFA and NBA 2K, plus a wealth of fighting games.
The esports industry is expected to generate a modest revenue of around $1.1 billion in 2021. More than half of that will come from sponsorships, with the rest made up of media rights, publisher fees, merchandise, tickets and streaming. However, that figure excludes the vast sums made by the companies publishing the world’s most popular esports titles.
For example, League of Legends made $1.75 billion in 2020, and that performance is highly reliant on its success in the esports arena. Honor of Kings, a mobile title similar to LoL and published by the same parent company, made $2.45 billion, making it the best performing game of the year. Honor of Kings – which has been adapted as Arena of Valor for western markets – also has a burgeoning esports scene.
Fortnite made $1.8 billion in revenue last year. It is not so reliant on esports, but the $30 million Fortnite World Cup did help it retain market share when faced with intense competition from the likes of Apex Legends in 2019.
Steaming Platforms Flourish
Twitch and YouTube also earn significant revenue from broadcasting esports events. In 2016, analysts speculated that Twitch – which has a razor-sharp focus on gaming – was a $20 billion company inside Amazon – and it has grown far exponentially since then. In a bid to rival Twitch, Google’s YouTube spent $160 million on the rights to stream Activision Blizzard’s esports leagues and events last year.
Then there is an entire industry featuring celebrity streamers, many of whom play competitively in order to boost their profiles. The leading lights have earned eight-figure streaming contracts with the likes of Twitch, YouTube and the now defunct Mixer. Esports players often command large salaries and win massive prize pots.
Put it all together and you soon realize that the economic contribution of the esports sector is vast, making it a multibillion-dollar industry. It should grow again in 2021, as Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out, live esports events become possible once more and exciting new games hit the market.
Predictions for The Esports Industry in 2021
How will esports develop in 2021? With the number of viewers set to soar past 550 million and revenues poised to maintain their upward curve, many analysts are bullish on the sector’s chances of future success.
Newzoo believes that this will be the year that mobile esports enter the upper echelon. “Mobile esports are already subverting expectations in the once-PC-dominated esports market,” reads the latest report from the firm. “Even towards the end of last year, games like PUBG Mobile and Garena Free Fire began to generate higher peak esports viewer counts than PC titles like CS:GO and Dota 2.”
It expects this trend to grow in 2021, as consumer appetite for mobile esports spikes in China, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America. It also believes that esports franchises will grow increasingly sophisticated from a commercial perspective, positioning themselves as lifestyle brands that transcend the world of competitive gaming and enter pop culture. That is clearly the case for 100Thieves, which counts Drake as a co-owner, and Newzoo believes many more franchises will sign high-profile content creators.
The team feels that traditional sports will start to mimic esports, blurring the boundaries between the two, while esports communities will join together for more concerts, political events, and live shows on streaming platforms as the sector becomes increasingly influential.