‘We will see stadiums in Europe being sold out for eSports events within 2-3 years’
Seoul’s Sangam Stadium hosted the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup™ 2002. Twelve years on, the 66,000 seats of the stadium were sold out for yet another, rather unique sporting event – the League of the Legends World Finals. This time around, the action took place not on the pitch but on giant screens.
However, the atmosphere remained electric – quite literally for the eSport event. There were professional teams, coaches, commentators, trophies and fans every bit as devoted to their sport as those of any other. As well as a capacity crowd, the event, promoted by video games publisher Riot Games, was watched live by 27 million viewers online. In comparison, the NBA finals series between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat the same year reached a mere 15.5 million.
Whalen Rozelle, director of eSports at Riot Games has dubbed the League of the Legends World Championship as the World Cup, Super Bowl combined in his media statments. “The League of Legends World Championship (LCS) is like the Super Bowl and the World Cup rolled into one,” Rozelle says. “We have a very similar World Cup format because League of Legends is truly a global sport with most of the continents and many different countries represented. And the spectacle of the event is like the Super Bowl.”
A spectator sport
Competitive computer gaming, or eSports, as a spectator sport is a worldwide phenomenon and one that is challenging its traditional cousins for the attention of fans and their money. Experts are already predicting eSports as the future of stadium business and vice versa.
South Korea, hailed as the birthplace of eSports, is leading the revolution in the sector. On April 30 this year, it inaugurated the OGN e-Stadium – the world’s first stadium exclusively dedicated to eSports. Europe and Americas are catching up too, with scores of new eSports arenas coming up in several cities.
ESL (Electronic Sports League), which operates from Cologne, Germany, has hosted multiple eSports stadium events over the last one year. And according to ESL Executive Vice President Craig Levine, this is only the beginning. “We believe stadium events are the future,” Levine told the Daily Dot.
ESL has been hosting ESL Pro Series for more than a decade in Germany. The Cologne-based eSports league has set its eyes in the US market, where it is currently engaged in efforts to grow its presence through stadium events. However it’s not alone. US-based Major League Gaming has already announced plans to hold events at larger mixed-use stadiums this year.
Today eSports industry is worth $748.8 million which is poised to hit $1.9 billion by 2018 with a global viewership of over 200 million, according Superdata.
Although Asia is the leading eSports market as of now with over $321 million in revenue, Stephanie Llamas, director of research and consumer insights at SuperData, says this growth will be driven by the US and Europe, which marks a shift in the global eSports ecosystem.
The current revenue share of North America is at $224 million (although the US accounts for 96% of North American eSports), Europe at $172 million and the rest of the world accounting for $29 million. SuperData also forecasts eSports viewership will exceed 188 million this year.
“I think eSports is on a certain trajectory at this moment. It’s not only impossible to predict where it’s going to be in five years. Superdata talks of it being $1.9 billion industry by 2018. I personally think that’s a low-ball figure with the way the things are going on now. We will see a stadium in Europe being sold out for an [eSports] event within the next 2-3 years,” says Miles Jacobson, Studio Director, Sports Interactive.
According to Superdata figures, the current $748.8 million global eSports economy is overwhelmingly driven by sponsorships and advertising, which generate $578.6 million (78%) of revenues. The new Fantasy eSports and eSports betting industries account for $55.8 million (7%) of revenues, just edging out the $53.8 million (7%) in prize pools. Amateur and microtournaments generate $27.7 million (4%), followed by $17 million (2%) in merchandise and $15.9 million (2%) in ticket sales.
“It’s big money,” says Eric Cruz, executive creative director of AKQA Shanghai. “Globally, the gaming industry is bigger than the film industry. In movies and branded content, products sit naturally within the storyline. In games, you can interact and/or have to engage with the product before you can reach the next level — which creates a new way to interact with brands in a more immersive way. You can lead the viewer to experience your product by design.”
On October 19, 1972, Stanford University hosted a unique event for its time – a video game competition for the game Spacewar. University students were invited to an ‘Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics’, held in both individual and two-member team categories. At stake was the grand prize – an annual year’s subscription for Rolling Stone magazine. The event generated quite a buzz in the campus and is perhaps the earliest known video game competition held publicly.
It set the groundwork for The Space Invaders Championship hosted by Atari in 1980, which was among the first large scale video game competition. The event attracted more than 10,000 participants across the United States and went on the establishing competitive gaming as a mainstream hobby. During the 1970s and 1980s, video game players and tournaments begun being featured in popular newspapers and magazines including Life and Time.
The organisers of these initial events may not have imagined in their wildest dreams that within the next three decades, competitive gaming in its Internet avatar of eSports will become a $2-billion industry with a global viewership of over 200 million.
Through the 90s
Looking back at the history of the gaming industry, video games first morphed into cross-platform multi-player Internet games, or eSports, with the advent and spread of Internet in the 1990s.
Large eSports tournaments in the 1990s include the 1990 Nintendo World Championships, which toured across the United States, and held its finals at Universal Studios Hollywood in California. Nintendo held a 2nd World Championships in 1994 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System called the Nintendo PowerFest ’94. There were 132 finalists that played in the finals in San Diego, California.
Blockbuster Video also ran their own World Game Championships in the early 1990s, co-hosted by GamePro magazine. Citizens from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Chile were eligible to compete. Games from the 1994 championships included NBA Jam and Virtua Racing.
The Korean push
The eSports movement got its most significant push with the dawn of the new millennium in 2000 in South Korea which led to the rise of global tournaments. The growth of eSports in South Korea is believed to have been influenced by the mass building of broadband Internet networks following the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The high unemployment rate at the time caused large numbers of people to look for things to do while out of work.
The Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA), an arm of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, was founded in 2000 to promote and regulate eSports in the country. KeSPA oversees over 25 eSports titles, and the country currently has three dedicated eSports television networks. Before long, eSports in South Korea were professionally organised with government backing, and the myriad TV stations began to broadcast competitive gaming.
Professional tournaments that started in PC Bangs were fast becoming too big for their cramped surroundings. They moved on to hotels. And finally to stadiums. The success of eSports in Korea spread throughout Asia in the 2000s.
“The Asian market is still growing, but it’s saturated,” Llamas says. “With live-streaming channels like Twitch and YouTube, we’re seeing a lot of Western companies investing in eSports and there’s a lot of room to grow in those markets.”
This year’s Coliseum Summits in Doha, Las Vegas and Beijing will discuss in details the potential of eSports in the future and its prospective impact on the stadium business. The summits will have exclusive presentations from experts in the eSports industry.
To remain updated on the future course of eSports industry, keep following www.coliseum-online.com.