Not so long ago, cultural commentators rightly viewed competitive gaming as the domain of nerds. In other words, it was seen as a niche hobby that was nothing like “real sports.” However, as eSports has become a billion-dollar industry, perceptions have changed and “professional gamer” has become an idealized vocation.
Tragically, a new trend suggests eSports might soon become as mainstream as football or baseball; competitive gaming is now a varsity sport in high schools across America.
Competitive Gaming is a Real Sport
CNN reported high schools in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Texas now have competitive gaming programs. As a result, eSports competitions are now becoming as much a part of the high school experience as awkward homecoming dances and atrocious haircuts.
Varsity gamers can also broaden their educational horizons by excelling at their favorite titles. More than 30 colleges and universities now offer eSports scholarships, so “World-Class DOTA 2 Player” has become a valid career path. Indeed, the National Association of Collegiate Esports states there is $15 million in scholarship funds available to aspiring gamers.
Illinois-based Robert Morris University, the first college to offer gamer scholarships, even made a deal with Champion to provide its “League of Legends” team with custom apparel.
The Explosive Growth of eSports
Though it is quietly devastating that teens are now able to letter in “Fortnite,” the recent explosive growth of eSports makes it a vocation worth pursuing. In 2017, the competitive games market generated $655 million in revenue. But, experts estimate the eSports market will generate $1.79 billion in revenue by 2022.
The reason the competitive gaming field has grown so much so quickly is that its global audience has skyrocketed. Newzoo reports there are 453.8 million eSports watchers worldwide. Moreover, the activity’s total viewership is almost split evenly between hard-core fans (55 percent) and casual watchers (45 percent). Plus, as eSports competitions now air ABC and ESPN, its exposure to mainstream consumers has never been higher.
It’s also worth noting that competitive gaming has a surprisingly diverse array of revenue streams. Currently, eSports profits are broken into four segments: game publishing fees, merchandise and ticket sales, media rights remuneration, and sponsorship payments. Notably, endorsements are the field’s most valuable segment as it represents $456.7 million in revenue or 41.4 percent of the $1.1 billion market.
The Future of Sports Sponsorships
Additionally, the competitive gaming market already has top-tier corporations as major sponsors. Last year, Chinese eSports athlete Jian Zihao signed an endorsement deal with Nike. Furthermore, Zihao’s “League of Legends” club, Royal Never Give Up, has made partnership agreements with KFC and Mercedes-Benz.
Industry analysts expect the global eSports audience to increase to 645 million by 2022. Accordingly, more valuable brands will seek to make big money deals with the Lebron James of “Overwatch” and the Tom Brady of “StarCraft II.”
By all conceivable metrics, competitive gaming is going to be a major cultural force in the near future. But, the world should remember, change never comes without a price. Sadly, an eSports-focused remake of “Friday Night Lights” is all but inevitable.