Thanks to the global pandemic, it’s been a whirlwind couple of years for eSports. Physical eSports competitions were hit hard like any industry as fans were not allowed in. However, the pandemic opened gamers’ eyes to eSports as a genre; many famous stars took to their consoles to compete during the lockdown of 2020. It meant an increasing number of people watched eSports, demonstrated by figures taken from the League of Legends World Championship.
As revealed by eSports Insider, the peak viewership for the 2020 tournament was 2.7m people. In 2021, that shot up to 3.5m. That’s a significant increase and points to the growing reputation not just of League of Legends but eSports as a whole. To a degree, it could be likened to the poker boom of 2003; there are big prizes on offer, and outside influences have ensured exposure beyond what might normally have been expected.
Many people would not have turned to eSports, and online gaming were it not for the pandemic, but those who did discovered a world of riches. As a Bwin Sports infographic on eSports explains, the League of Legends tournament had a prize pool of $2.25m. Where there are big prizes, there are many competitors, and some might only have become aware of the potential by accident over the last two years.
What is the future of eSports in 2022 and beyond? Firstly, it has to be stated that multi-million dollar prizes are not the norm. Most titles have prizes that are a few thousand dollars, and they’re the areas expected to see growth. League of Legends and others such as Dota 2 might draw people in, but they’re not the type of games that are instantly accessible to everyone. How many casual gamers have played them? Not many, one would suggest, certainly not the same numbers that play EA Sport’s FIFA franchise or Activision’s Call of Duty. Street Fighter 2, Tekken and Mortal Kombat all have thriving eSports competition, and whilst they won’t reward you with millions, they have a wider appeal to casual gamers.
The future also lies in exposure, which means getting the product out to a wider audience. A report by JD Supra suggests the expected growth of online streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube will continue to facilitate delivering the product to a wider audience. The pandemic ensured more people saw eSports than ever before, and that’s manifested in the recent numbers seen not only at the League of Legends tournament but across the industry. If streaming platforms continue to grow and offer access to competitions, it means more people discover eSports, leading to more growth.
It’s hard to see exponential growth in the niche titles, such as League of Legends, but there’s certainly scope for the more common games accessible to almost every gamer of every age to snowball as eSports. FIFA holds a weekly tournament on its platform, and Call of Duty was the quickest selling game in November; these are the sort of titles, along with Beat ‘Em Ups and racing games, that hold the key to future eSports success.