Tuning in: Esports vs Sports Viewership monumental shifts in 2022

Twenty years ago, if you would tell someone that you want to swap the channel from watching a football game to watching someone play video games, they would probably call you crazy. However, today, times have changed, and everyone that has a passion for gaming has changed for the better. Not only that video games are no longer seen as a hobby or something exclusive for kids and teens, but it is a massive industry. While it still has a lot to catch up to the traditional sports when it comes to viewership and interest, things are slowly pacing towards that moment.

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.

The 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

All because of passion!

Let’s be honest, where esports is standing today would not happen if the community is not as passionate. Esports is a phenomenon created by its fanbase. People who are proud to call themselves gamers and fans!

In most cases, events started in smaller venues, with only a few dozen or a few hundred people at best. Today, esports has the potential to fill up even the biggest stadiums, which could have been seen at Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2017, where 173,000 people attended the event live.

Of course, live viewers are not the only measurement, and when it comes to online views, they are more significant than ever. In 2021, there were so many events that people have tuned in and watched through their screens:

  • M2 World Championship had a peak viewership of 3.08 million viewers
  • M3 World Championship raised that bar even higher by having a peak viewership of 3.19 million viewers
  • PUBG Mobile Global Championship Season 0 had an impressive 3.8 million peak viewership
  • 2021 League of Legends World Championship had a peak viewership of 4.01 million
  • Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore had the most extensive peak viewership of the year, with an incredible 5.41 million concurrent viewers across various platforms.

It is worth noting that these numbers do not even include China. However, this is no surprise, as esports covers quite a broad spectrum of genres. Like traditional sports, players can compete in all kinds of things. Whether you are a fan of golf, first-person shooters, fighting games, raiding, whatever genre of gaming exists, there is an event that will haul in thousands of viewers and attendees.

Not only that esports opens its doors to various interests, but it also opens its doors to anyone. It does not matter where you come from, and it does not matter what gender you are. As long as you have a passion and dedication to the games, you can be a part of the esports community or thrive as a professional player.

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 last season attracted Spring Finals peaking at over 817k and 416k consecutive viewers respectively, across Twitch and Youtube.

Putting the “Sports” in “Esports”

When the word sport is mentioned, a lot would think about hard physical workouts and preparation to compete at a tournament, but sports are more than that. While physical practice is critical in many sports, mental preparation plays an even more significant factor in even more sports. The same can be said for esports.

In order to perform on the stage, for high stakes, players deal with a great deal of mental and physical exertion. The stereotype of the overweight game is long gone, as various esports organizations embraced the traditional saying of “A healthy body leads to a healthy mind,” and they are making sure that their players are in top shape, both physically and mentally.

Esports are becoming more physically demanding with the incredibly advancing VR technologies. The best example of this is the Beat Saber event in Turkey that took place on  March 2021, where players from ages 8 to 52 competed in the game.  While the prize pool was not too big, it is only the beginning of some way more physically demanding esports.

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.

Rise of esports

Something that is often misunderstood, a stigma, is that no one would invest in the esports scene from a global scale and that no one outside its “small” fandom cares about it. Well, while that might have been true twenty years ago, today, a lot of big companies recognize the potential of esports, and it is not rare to see esports events sponsored by them.

Long gone are the days when sponsors were only companies that produced items related to gaming, like Logitech, Razer, Intel, and so on. Today, it is not unusual to see companies like Audi, BMW, Kia, Monster Energy, Red Bull, FTX, DC Comics, and many more sponsor various esports organizations to promote their brand further. While many would not think about this, it is a big deal.

Esports vs Sports Viewership into the Future

Global esports revenues will grow 20.5 percent to $2 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. In 2020, that number jumped 11.7 percent to 662.7 million. Throughout 2021 esports audiences grew a further 10 percent to 728.8 million viewers. This number is expected to reach 800 million by the end of 2023.

To put that into perspective, consulting firm Activate predicted 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 2022 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. Pure esports and sports sims are going to surpass most traditional sports by the end of the decade.

While the global pandemic is still going on, the esports scene is not stopping from advancing. In fact, with fewer live events and people spending more time in their homes, gaming is getting more attraction than ever. This not only brings in new fans and some new talent that we are all thrilled to see on the big stages in the future when we put the pandemic behind us!