SAN FRANCISCO — You’re probably hearing a lot about esports these days. That’s because it’s one of gaming’s fastest-growing sectors.
Esports, as we call the competitive gaming scene, has become mainstream rapidly in the last six months, with networks like ESPN and TBS beginning to cover the scene. Segerstrale noted that esports is also growing outside of PC gaming, which has previously dominated the field. He says that the expansion of esports to more devices, including mobile, will help that growth to mainstream status. Colin Sebastian, analyst at R.W. Baird, estimates that esports will generate more than $1.8 billion in annual revenue by 2020.
A panel at GamesBeat 2015 gathered four professionals with knowledge in the esports arena: Dennis Fong, the chief executive officer of Raptor (a social network for gaming); Kristian Segerstrale, the chief operating officer and executive director of Super Evil Megacorp (makers of the mobile MOBA Vainglory); Matt Zitzmann, the chief executive officer of Kamcord (a live-streaming site based on mobile); and Ian Sharpe, the chief executive officer of Azubu (a streaming company).
Zitzmann noted the appeal for esports comes from how easy it is to participate and broadcast. Players can use streaming services to watch and play from anywhere, rather than having to depend on specific venues or stadiums.
Sharpe noted that esports on mobile will grow thanks to international markets, like India, that are far more likely to watch and play games on non-PC devices. This also applies to Japan, where PC gaming isn’t as big as it is in the U.S. PC gamers are skeptical if mobile gaming, with its limited controls, can really compete with the complexity of PC esports. However, the panel used Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a digital card game available on PC and mobile, as an example of esports games already coexisting between the two platforms.
Sharpe noted that esports needs to have revenue at its core in order to grow. Traditional sports depend on advertisers and marketing partnerships in order to generate money. Esports, however, simultaneously promote actual products: the games the competitors play. People who watch a League of Legends tournament are likely to play the game themselves and spend money on microtransactions.
Competitors can also make more money in esports now than ever. Not only can they win prize money from tournaments, but they can generate their own revenue by streaming themselves on sites like Twitch. Like real athletes, esports competitors succeed when they can turn their personality into a marketable brand.
The future of esports also bring up questions. What will happen to players in the future who depend on the money they make by gaming professionally? Sharpe notes that we’ll some day need a way to help these competitors if injuries and age make them unable to play, similar to programs professional sports have.
Some things can still hold esports back. The panel noted that the scene is often unfriendly to female gamers and that some countries (like U.S.) still attach a negative connotation to gaming. Patience is also key, as it takes time for games to grow an audience and develop the proper tools to support broadcasting.
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