Will Esports ever be as popular as sports?

Do you think Esports will ever become as popular as football, basketball or baseball? Will the finals of say, an Overwatch tournament be viewed by as many people as the Super Bowl?

Sure, it will only take two things money and talent. Right now the team that wins the super bowl will pay each player about $200,000 in bonuses for being on the team no including other contract money or endorsement money. Back in 1967 when the superbowl started they got $15,000 from a quick google the best Overwatch player in the world has earned about that same $200,000 so the money in esports needs to jump up 50x or so for that to be even and I’d guess international soccer is a better analogy due to the reach of both. While it may be true that money follows fame in a lot of cases kids are going to follow the money and if the esports money isn’t better than a regular job then kids will play video games as a hobby and the sport will be looked down on.

The second part is talent. Right now there are bunches of different games that fall under the catagory of esports but only soccer, baseball, basketball and rugby as major international sports. The physical sports have been basically the same the entire lives of the current players so they have learned the rules, tip, tricks and have formed their game play around that. The people who are best able to do that are the ones who are talented and it takes a long time to do that. For instance look at the number of successful college players who don’t adapt well to the professional rules. Esports doesn’t have the same time for people to build up their talent, for a kid playing overwatch today do you think the game will be the same or even the same game in the top spot once he goes from learning it to being able to be competitive in 10 years? While there are games that are structurally similar, (fps or madden) there is still a world of difference between halo 1 and overwatch. If esports became more consistent 9ver time then they could develop a deeper talent pool and become more popular which would lead back to more money.

I don’t think esports will ever have the national popularity of any professional sports league in the US until we get a VR environment and move sports into esports.

Oredigger hits on the basic problem, which is that no given video games as we currently understand it lasts a long time. The longest lasting popular esports game is “Starcraft,” which is declining rapidly.

To be a popular spectator event, a sport (I will not here argue if esports are sports, it doesn’t matter for this discussion) needs legitimacy - that is, it must matter to the audience who wins. If you want millions of people to pay good money to see who wins the Fortnite Cup, you need people to thing the Fortnite Cup is a trophy worth fighting for.

In the case of established sports, a large part of what makes their championships meaningful is that the history adds the weight of legitimacy to them. There is a sense that trophies like the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal, or a Super Bowl ring are meaningful in part because their history serve as a signal that they are meaningful. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that an NBA championship means something, in part because it has been the symbol of professional basketball greatness for longer than most basketball fans have been alivel; it serve as both proof of its importance and a conversation topic. It matters if your team wins the World Series this October in part because fans know who won the World Series last year, or when their team last won a World Series if it ever did, and so the 2018 win means something as compared to those wins.

A sporting organization starting off has to bootstrap fan interest without that sort of history. Obviously it can be done or else I would not be able to assume anyone reading this knows was a Super Bowl or a World Cup is. But in esports you are kind of doomed to perpetually having to do that. It’s as if every fifteen years the NFL started playing a totally different sport.

Well - esports might never seriously challenge the US ‘big four’ (football, baseball, basketball, hockey).
But poker is reasonably well-established in the US, both in terms of participation and in terms of media, despite the legal hurdles poker (particularly online poker) has had to jump over.

And I’d argue that esports have a much bigger potential market - more people play video games than play poker.

If poker can have superstars and media celebrities, so can esports.

Incidentally, there are also esports that involve actual activity (indoor cycling) with winners getting five-figure payouts.
CVR was billed as ‘the world’s hardest video game’. I can attest to how tough the races are.

Poker is an interesting comparison, but its popularity has fallen considerably in the last seven years, and that is a game that has two significant advantages over video games; permanence of the game (poker is very old and Texas hold 'em is decades old) and already having an established history by the time it got popular as a spectator sport.

Of course, video games themselves may change. We kind of live with the assumption that video games are iterative commercial occurrences, where new titles are published as a commercial endeavour on a periodic basis. Maybe it won’t always be that way.

I’m guessing not in my lifetime – and I hope to have at least 40 years left in me. Esport video games lack the same overall cultural impact that traditional sports already established. They don’t have the same geographic cultural/historical ties. There’s too many games that are pretty much the same thing stepping on one another’s toes versus traditional sports which are much more distinct (and have seasons that overlap on the edges but aren’t all year round things).

I don’t know if these are impossible to overcome but I suspect they won’t be overcome in a few decades of time. I play games. I chat with a number of gamers. Even among them, no one shows much interest in following Esports; a couple guys who play Rainbow Six Siege might watch a little bit of those games but even then they’re mainly in it for the in-game rewards via Twitch. No one has favorite players or teams. I know it happens and there are people into it but it feels like it has pretty shallow penetration even among the most obvious audience base.

No, because as much as people love their technology, they’ll never stop loving watching “real live people” doing “real live things”.

I think there’s something to that as well. I think it’s more universal to appreciate an athlete pulling off some feat of impressive physicality to win a game than someone moving a mouse/controller slightly differently.

eSports will supposedly generate $1.5B revenue by 2020. That would put them somewhere between the Japanese pro baseball league and Formula One auto racing. The NFL generates over $10B a year.

The average age of the eSports fan is probably mid-20s. The average MLB fan age is more like mid-50s. The average NFL fan is mid-40s and the NBA fan is mid-30s. Source

I’m not sure a lack of tradition and history will detract from the growth of eSports. It can evolve with technology. Ggraphics and realism of video games will continue to progress. Many fans of American football, on the other hand, argue that the NFL is regressing, becoming less of a spectacle thanks to safety concerns. I can absolutely see the day where eSports overtakes “real” sports in terms of viewership and revenue.

Is that globally? Don’t get me wrong, a billion bucks is a billion bucks but I suppose there’s various ways to measure “popularity”. If I’m sitting behind a desk at Amalgamated Esports LLC, then I might not much care where my money is coming from. If I’m a guy at a backyard BBQ, I probably won’t find anyone to chat with about yesterday’s CS:GO match which is where “popularity” is meaningful to me. Even less so when we’re lumping all competitive gaming from MOBAs to Team Shooters to Fighting Games to RTSs, etc under “Esports” and comparing it to a single sport (football).

eSports are big enough that DFS site DraftKings has DotA contests.

Esports reminds me of televised golf, in that I suspect that most esports viewers are also avid gamers, much like most golf watchers are also avid golf players.

It’s one of those things where even if you’re an avid gamer in general, the subtle things that make a League of Legends player excellent instead of good are going to be entirely obscure if you don’t already play the game yourself. In that respect, it’s worse than golf, in that golf is pretty self-evident- the better players tend to hit the balls closer to the hole. But being able to tell who’s a good jungler vs. a tank in LoL isn’t so easy. I can’t tell, despite having watched quite a few streams, and watching my buddies play several times. And I’m an avid gamer, just not a LoL player.

I also think there needs to be a “god mode” or “commentator mode” camera where they can basically fly around the map at their own altitude and perspective to show the game from outside the players’ perspectives. Right now, if you’re spectating a game, you see through the players’ eyes, but you can’t get an idea of where everyone is at once, which would help build drama for FPS games and the like.

Right now, the biggest handicap that I can see is that since they’re aiming for avid gamers, they have to make the esports more fun than actually playing the game itself, which is tough. I mean, if I have an hour to spare, would I rather play Overwatch, or watch other guys play it? At least with golf, football, basketball, auto racing, etc… the option of actually engaging in the activity isn’t often an option, so watching is the best we can do. Video games don’t work like that though.

Global revenue, yes. Apparently Goldman Sachs estimates eSports will bring in $3B by 2022. Even as a global total, the rate of growth is impressive. Difficult to say if or when it will plateau.

Interesting that the linked article is about “mobile eSports” which is a part I never even think about. Looking up “mobile eSports” in general, it seems like they’re largely popular in Asia (China, especially) and some growth in Latin America. Which I guess goes back to meaningful popularity – at least from a US-centric perspective. I don’t doubt that the eSports market in general will continue to grow. I’m very skeptical that there will soon be a time where I’ll be talking to someone who watches them, much less someone who watches the same game/teams that I watch. On the other hand, “How 'bout them Packers” continues to have relevance.

That is, again, a very US-centric look at things but then something being huge in South Korea doesn’t affect me much.

To answer the OP:

eSports may very well, as a whole, eclipse some singular sport in global viewers/revenue.

I very much doubt that any single eSport event will get close to the viewership of the most popular traditional sporting events. The global viewership of a single Overwatch match won’t exceed that of a domestic event like the Super Bowl. Even more so, it won’t come remotely close to that of a global sporting event like the World Cup finals which had over a billion viewers worldwide (and is a more fair comparison). And, if it does happen, it won’t be in my lifetime unless there’s some tremendous unforeseeable shifts in entertainment both on the gaming tech side and on the audience side.

Yes and yes.

I think the poker reference if apt and probably the peak for esports in their current set up. For instance the main event of the WSOP winners purse was $150k which is comparable to what the highest paid Overwatch guy has made. I don’t know how much cross over there is in esports but typically the poker guys will play in several tournaments and several events at each tournament so without looking it up I’d guess the top poker players make more of course they probably lose more too.

Peak poker before it became illegal probably is the better comparison but just looking at main event to a single game.

The Super Bowl? Probably not, but it may come close to other sporting championship.

The 2018 Overwatch League Finals was viewed by 860,000 people worldwide and while 289,175 came from the US, 45% of those were between 18-34 (ie, potential for very high growth). And it’s starting to get broadcasted on ESPN networks (and XD).

So I think it’ll definitely get higher and may end up being at 5mil viewers for something like an Overwatch finals in the next decade. That may not be as high as the Super Bowl or World Series or NBA Championships, but it could eclipse the finals of other, smaller, sports.

That article mentions that the Super Bowl “only” had 20% of its viewership in that demographic but, when extrapolated to total numbers, that’s 130k Overwatch viewers (in the US) and 21 million Super Bowl viewers in the 18-34 bracket or over 160 times more Super Bowl viewers.

I was going to suggest that it might beat something like boxing viewership but the 2017 heavyweight title fight (Joshua vs Klitschko) had around 660,000 viewers in the US despite being on Showtime. Globally, it had 10 mil viewers in Germany alone.

I’m sure eSports will keep growing but they have a long way to go to compete with traditional sports.

But that doesn’t explain why NASCAR is popular. F1, sure - but NASCAR? It’s driving. A car. In circles. Anyone can drive a car. Sure, NASCAR is driving a car really fast, yes, but it’s…driving a car. I drive a car every day. I even did one of those demo things in Florida 10-15 years ago where you drive around in a real race car for a few laps on an actual circuit. The main takeaway? My god those cars are effin’ LOUD. Otherwise…it was driving a car.

So clearly there’s more to it than simply ‘impressive physicality’.

Really? Everyone knows Mario, Pac-man, Sonic. Minecraft is used in schools. People that would ‘never play video games’ - like my mom - have Angry Birds on their phones. Don’t equate ‘cultural impact’ with simple ‘history’. Video games haven’t been around 100 years, but the cultural impact is real.