Every prominent industry is made up by a set of trends, variations and new developments that expand the very essence of the field’s landscape. This can be seen in the technology industry, the creation of the internet completely and totally redefining the sector, with automation set to be the industry’s next big wave. The same could be said with the transportation industry, the creation of ride share dominating the field in recent years with self driving vehicles on deck to be the way of the future.
In this regard, the sport industry is no exception.
The last decade or so has been defined by the gradual legalization of sports gambling, headlined by the rise to prominence of daily fantasy sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel. While the gambling industry is still steadily growing and soon to blow up in coming years, the next opportunity that those in the industry widely agree is the next big thing is, without a doubt, Esports.
For an industry as recent and in its infancy as the Esports industry is, it is extremely nuanced and complex. There are endless opportunities and ways to grow, and industry executives and investors hope that this will translate to an endless stream of cash flow into their wallets. Due to this wide scope, analyzing the industry as a whole is impossible without oversimplifying key aspects and not doing the complexities justice. That being said, an interesting aspect of Esports to go into more detail discussing is the intersection of the Esports world with the more “traditional” professional sporting world, and the symbiotic relationship between the two realms.
The market for professional sports in the United States has long been dominated by a select few. Americans watch the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAAF, NCAAB, and Nascar. There is a severe drop off in viewership between those and every other sport. That being said, in recent years professional soccer has seen a great uptick in popularity in the United States, both in terms of watching America’s MLS as well as the great leagues of other nations such as England’s Premier League or Spain’s La Liga. Many people attribute much of this growing popularity to EA’s video game series, “FIFA,” and the exposure America’s youth is getting to the sport because of it. According to a poll by ESPN, about ⅓ of the people who bought the game claim that they are now soccer fans after not being so before, and more than ½ have developed some sort of interest in the sport’s professional teams. Correlating with the astronomical rise in popularity of the FIFA game in the last decade or so are the TV ratings for professional soccer in the USA. Millions of Americans tune in every Saturday morning to watch soccer across the pond in England, and the number of stations to carry Premier League games has increased from 5 in 2010 to 17 in 2019. It is not a coincidence that this increase in popularity is following the boom in sales of the FIFA video game, in this case Esports helping to propel sports leagues around the world.
The more traditional sporting leagues and franchises can be of great assistance to Esports as well. The “NBA 2K League” was announced on May 4, 2017 and the inaugural season took place in 2018. NBA 2K is a basketball video game made by the company “Take Two Interactive” and the league is a collaboration between the former and the NBA. 17 of the 30 NBA teams have official affiliates in the league, and each player gets paid, as any professional athlete would. NBA franchises are putting money, stadiums, man power, marketing power, and more towards promoting watching professional gamers duel it out. If that were to be suggested 10-15 years ago, the idea would have been laughed at. However, the world has changed and good businessmen follow the money. The NBA sees an opportunity in the gaming world and want to be the pioneers of the process.
The thing is, it doesn’t stop there. There are numerous other partnerships between traditional sports and their digital counterparts, even branching out of sports gaming. The Wilpon family, known for owning the New York Mets own another franchise as well, the New York Excelsior of the Overwatch League. Overwatch, while most definitely an Esport, resembles very little to baseball, the sport that is the Wilpon family’s bread and butter. That being said, the Excelsior were very successful in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League, finishing as one of the top performing teams. Intersections like these are only the beginning, and the biggest and best of the Esports world is yet to come.