Tuning in: Esports vs Sports Viewership sees a monumental shift in 2021

Esports viewership continues to rival that of traditional sporting events. It may even outpace sports audiences within the next decade. This has been a wake-up call for sports clubs to evolve with their younger audiences’ times and tastes.

A massive shift in esports vs sports viewership audience focus on esports content is now forcing traditional sports organizations to work on ways to engage the esports audience, and attract fandom with new and innovative ventures.

Esports vs Sports Viewership

Sports Fans with Controllers

The esports phenomenon is often misunderstood. After all, who would spend time and money to watch someone else play video games? The same kind of people attend the opening day of their favorite sports team and admire athletes at the top of their game.

Esports is unique because it is both accessible to external audiences and hardcore gamers. Even if you don’t play or play well, you can enjoy others’ skills and live vicariously through them.

Like traditional sports, competitive video games offer a range of titles to choose from, and each audience is different. After all, not all soccer fans watch golf or shock-put competitions. There is an audience for everyone in esports, whether you prefer shooters, dungeon raiding, card collecting strategy, or yes, even farm simulation. Virtual sports are another niche which has gained immense popularity during the pandemic.

Esports also offer a chance for men, women, and other gender identities to compete on the same playing field. Gaming requires skill, attitude, and teamwork that are not dependent on physical attributes.

Esports viewers respond to this. As an example the LEC and LCS playoffs finals this season attracted Spring Finals peaking at over 817k and 416k consecutive viewers respectively, across Twitch and Youtube.

Putting the “Sports” in “Esports”

In 2014, ESPN, John Skipper, said that esports wasn’t a real sport. Less than a year later, the publisher released a special esports issue. One article was titled:

“Resistance is futile: eSports is massive … and growing.”

The truth is, esports professionals at the top of their game endure a great deal of mental and physical exertion. They may not be running and jumping, but players are tested by physical and psychological endurance. Gone is the stereotype of the overweight gamer as organizations like Complexity Gaming and Skillshot Media increase their efforts to keep players healthy through nutrition and sports medicine.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe that esports is a “sport” or not. The debate hasn’t stopped ESPN from securing major broadcasting deals for esports leagues. Nor has this prevented traditional sports clubs from creating their own digital teams. Esports News are now also a separate category, while countries like South Korea, China, Denmark, and Russia officially consider esports to be a sport.

Esports vs Sports Viewership into the Future

The global pandemic has proven beneficial to esports in terms of viewership and proof that the industry can survive while others struggle. Global esports revenues will grow 14.5 percent to $1 billion in 2021. As always, most of that figure — in this case, 75 percent — will come from media rights and sponsorships. Brands want to get eyes on their products and services, so it makes sense to keep making deals when sporting events and esports move online.

In 2019, 593.2 million people watched livestream gaming content, per data from Newzoo. Last year, that number jumped 11.7 percent to 662.7 million. While the vaccine rolls out and arenas prepared to reopen, esports audiences in 2021 are expected to grow a further 10 percent to 728.8 million viewers.

To put that into perspective, consulting firm Activate predicts that in 2021, 79 million people in the U.S. will view Major League Baseball content, versus 84 million watching esports. This year, Activate suggests that NFL viewership will be the only sports audience larger than esports.

As we all head into the rest of 2021 and try to put the pandemic behind us for good, traditional sports will likely be forever impacted by esports. Formula One launched a sim racing series, and teams in the NBA and NHL finished their season inside NBA2K 20 and NHL 20, respectively.

Article contributed by HB Duran from NGame Esports