The emergence of a global eSports marketplace has produced eye-popping projections that are beginning to capture awareness and attention from more and more of the mainstream public.
However, quantitative market numbers do not communicate an actionable context for capturing the eSports opportunity; instead, this is found through comprehension of the underlying community.
Competitive gaming: A community platform
Depictions of the worldwide viewing audience for professional eSports matches only scratch the surface of its true composition. Likewise, counting the number of users/players for an eSport title does not portray the full depth of participants. Ultimately, an eSport is defined by a diverse community consisting of professional/amateur play, spectating audiences, and a vibrant cast of contributors. The latter is comprised of anyone from bloggers, to content producers, to massive streaming personalities responsible for making platforms like Twitch, what they are today.
The variety of potentially revenue generating activities sustained by competitive gameplay is what segments eSports from the overall video game industry. While game titles serve as the nexus of eSports, attracting and sustaining this multitude of activity, they do not account for the entirety of non-gaming activities. All top eSports are marked by a healthy community of participants who do more than just play the games.
Wagering, popularity and personalities
News of DraftKings, one of the largest fantasy sports operators worldwide, entering the eSports domain supports the Eilers Research projection that in 2015, 2.3 million eSports viewers will wager $315 million on games accounting for industry revenues of $24 million. In 2020, those numbers are expected to jump to 19.4 million viewers betting $23.5 billion for a total of $1.81 billion worth of industry revenues. Despite the noteworthy financial figures involved, understanding why eSports is such a ripe outlet for wagering reveals more about the nature of its community, than anything else.
The open, accessible nature of eSports has powered the birth of popular personalities across its various communities. Freely available streaming content delivered live over the internet has catapulted anyone from pro players (former and current), notable pundits and even semi-popular variety streamers to various levels of distinction. However, a great deal of the eSports community is heavily influenced by a very recent past as an enthusiast hobby. As a result, participants are encouraged to prove they belong by demonstrating commitment to the scene, itself.
This unstated ideal views external commercialization (advertising, overt marketing, etc.) as a foreign influence. Community members view their association along the lines of passion and enthusiasm, as opposed to consumers of goods and services; a reality that creates a very real challenge for enterprises seeking to gain traction.
A question of gender
Video games are generally assumed to be a primarily male domain. However, today’s generation of gamers is increasingly female. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s (ESA) 2014 study, women make up 48 percent of game players. However, within competitive gaming there are very real barriers preventing women from full participation. The notion of rank, status and winning are a part of the competitive video gaming ethos; and when coupled with a mixed gender environment can create a toxic environment for female minorities. These barriers deserve separate analysis, but a recent study points to a correlation between poor male performance and hostility towards the opposite gender.
“A girl must have really thick skin to handle all the hate and not get emotional about it,” Stephanie Harvey, founder of CLG Red, an all-female pro gaming team.
The result isn’t just a noticeable lack of female competitive gamers but also eSports viewers, in general. Often labeled a social cause, the barriers women face in the eSports community hurts the overall prospects of competitive gaming. In essence, there is a large segment of the globe’s population that can and should be engaged but instead face unwarranted discouragement (intentional and unintentional) from the opposite gender. Far from just an issue of equality, this gender gap limits the growth prospects of the entire industry.
Alex Fletcher is the eSports talent and intelligence lead at Entiva Group, LLC. Fletcher has deep experience in consulting, software development, industry analysis and recruiting. Alex has a passion for writing, entrepreneurship, innovation and considers himself a life-long learner. Feel free to follow him on Twitter – @FletchUnleashed for the latest eSports news and insights.