While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted most parts of the economy and most walks of life, not everything or everyone has been impacted equally. Some sectors have in fact been buoyed by the combination of measures that otherwise shut down entire industries.
Case in point: eSports, otherwise known as professional video gaming.
Already on the rise pre-COVID-19, eSports has enjoyed a significant boost, both in terms of popular awareness and financial growth, especially as conventional sporting events were shuttered in the spring. And even though major league hockey, basketball and baseball have now taken their first careful steps to return, there's no reason to think the eSports sector won't continue to enjoy its ascension. Here's why.
The upside of down
First of all, several fundamental characteristics of video games were already working in eSports' favour. These include:
- The popularity and scale of gaming generally (in Canada, the industry contributed $4.5 billion to GDP in 2019, according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada)
- The fact that video games in particular are highly conducive to social interaction (with or without physical proximity)
- The ease, thanks to advancements in digital technology, with which live gaming can be broadcast (aka "streamed" online), putting the sector in direct competition with traditional media like television and film
- The ability to transcend geographical and cultural boundaries
- The frequency and rate at which games adapt and evolve, both technically and aesthetically
On top of this, the sector continues to attract the attention of traditional sports team owners and other brands, which have been increasing their engagement and investment in eSports leagues and teams. They see eSports not only as independent marketing and revenue streams, but also as an opportunity to supplement their typical customer/audience base. Interest is also coming from non-traditional sources: prominent Canadian recording artists, for example, are becoming investors in eSports brands, and their involvement is likely to raise the sector's profile and its valuation.
eSports also consists of more than the video game equivalents of conventional sports, which both widens its appeal and mitigates the risk of over-saturation among mediums. Certain games, for example, are geared to team-based combat mechanics. The players and audience members of these games may have little or no interest in hockey or basketball, and are drawn in simply by the challenge and the thrill of competition.
Two steps forward, one step back
None of this is to say that the pandemic hasn't also brought its difficulties. A key avenue for the sector's continued growth, for instance, is going to be the building of dedicated facilities to host live, in-person events where teams and fans gather to play and watch the action together—exactly the same way we have always done with traditional sports and other entertainment. This construction is already underway, and the opportunities for added value it presents through concessions, merchandise sales, sponsorship opportunities and other related economic activity are very promising indeed.
Despite any setbacks, eSports as a sector continues to bourgeon and evolve. Industry players are encouraged to explore key areas of opportunity, namely:
- Creating unique and memorable fan experiences, thereby building and differentiating their brand
- Evaluating their in-person transition and growth strategies, via stadium events or otherwise, as restrictions lift and audience sentiments warm in the long term
- Weighing deals opportunities against those of remaining independent
- Remaining vigilant in identifying and anticipating sector risks
Stay tuned for insights on these topics and more in my future blogs.