Businesses continue to ride the esports wave

Esports has been touted as ‘the next big thing’ for a long time now.

The earliest known competitive video game event actually took place as far back as 1972. Many products, services or concepts that benefit from such sustained hype struggle to live up to expectations, however the same cannot be said of esports.

Hundreds of millions of people follow esports globally. Major events are regularly live-streamed for free on platforms like YouTube and Twitch meaning the barrier to entry is significantly lower than for other elite sports products that are locked behind expensive TV subscriptions.

When market research companies estimate the value of the global esports industry, they’re now talking in billions rather than millions of dollars. A huge industry has established itself around esports, with businesses of all sorts able to benefit from clusters developing around events, teams, and tournaments all over the world.

The obvious place to start is the games companies themselves – the organizations that develop and publish the video game titles on which the top players compete against each other. Take Valve, for example. The Bellevue, Washington-based video game developer, publisher and distributor is the brains and brawn behind not one, but two of the world’s most popular esports titles: Dota 2 and Counter Strike.

Valve’s approach to esports is as clever as it is profitable. The International – the major annual esports tournament organized by Valve, had a prize pool north of $40 million in 2021 and it’s unlikely to be smaller in 2022. However, Valve only contributed around $1.6 million of that, with the rest coming from revenue generated by fans purchasing a tournament pass (The International Compendium). The prize pool is boosted, but only a small part of the revenue ends up there: The rest goes straight to Valve.

Another group of businesses that have been able to leverage the rising popularity of esports is online betting operators. Plenty of specialist esports betting sites have popped up over recent years in various global jurisdictions. The generalist sports betting operators tend to dominate in the UK, though, as it already has a very mature online betting industry. The brands on this list of new betting sites in the UK all offer esports markets and the offers available to new customers clearly demonstrate just how competitive this market is.

The UK Gambling Commission – the regulatory body overseeing gambling activity in the UK – recently (February 2022) published statistics on consumer experiences and attitudes to free bets and bonuses which revealed an annual growth rate of 8.5% in the popularity of esports from 2016 to 2019. It also showed that over one-third of 18-24-year-old males expressed an interest in betting on esports. Only a fool would bet against that growth rate being maintained in the coming years at the very least – it’s odds on to increase.

Betting companies routinely sponsor major teams and esports events, and many platforms offer free live streaming of top tournaments. This offering dovetails perfectly with in-play betting services, which allow bettors to place wagers while events are ongoing. The rapid pace and quickly resolving matches and rounds all add to its attractiveness both to bettors and the betting sites.

Then there are companies traditionally active in spaces that aren’t in any way related to esports or video games. Marketing teams at all sorts of different organizations are seeing the potential in riding the esports wave.

Esports is no longer a niche interest of a small corps of hardcore haming enthusiasts. It is moving closer to the mainstream with every day that goes by (it’s slated for inclusion in some capacity in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games) and mainstream corporations don’t want to miss out on their slice of the pie.

Household-name brands and companies, including the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Gillette, whose products are commonly plastered all over coverage of major sporting events in the UK and indeed globally, already have their sizable feet in the esports door.

The quickest way to truly legitimize an event or concept is for brands and businesses like these to risk their reputations on it. Their engagement in esports indicates that there is plenty of money to be made and is also as clear a sign as any that its popularity will continue to snowball.