Playing computer games is more than a pastime for some younger people. It’s a career.
A study by Unibet sheds new light on the phenomenon of eSports, as competitive gaming is called. Did you know that the League of Legends (multiplayer online battle arena/MOBA) final drew in more viewers than the last game of the 2016 NBA Finals (36 million vs 31 million)? Or that the total eSports prize pool exceeds $93 million?
As you can see, competitive gaming has become a serious business. Just how serious? Let’s talk numbers.
ESports viewership has been growing steadily, from 76 million occasional and 56 million frequent viewers in 2012, to a staggering 194 million and 191 million, respectively, in 2017. Statista projections take those numbers even further, expecting them to rise to 286 million and 303 million, respectively, by 2020. To put this into perspective, male millennials in the U.S. already watch eSports as much as they do baseball and ice hockey.
Along with the audience, the number of pro gamers has also been growing rapidly. In 2012, there were 4,246 of them, while in 2016 there were 13,555.
So we have the audience and the digital athletes — all we’re missing now are prizes. And they are generous, indeed. Winning a major golf tournament, such as the U.S. Open, can actually be less lucrative than winning Dota 2 (another MOBA tournament). Each member of the Wings Gaming team who won The International 2016 Dota 2 tournament went home with $1.83 million in prize money.
The gamer with the most money earned is Saahil Arora (gaming nickname: UNiVeRsE), a U.S. Dota 2 player who made $1.73 million in 2015, his best year. In comparison, Dustin Johnson was awarded $1.8 million for winning the 2016 U.S. Open, and Sergio Garcia, the winner of the 2017 Masters, took home $1.98 million.
From 2013 to 2016, the amount of money handed out across all eSports games more than quadrupled, from $21.4 million to $93.3 million. This year could breach the $150 million mark, an almost 100-fold increase from 2003.
Countries with the biggest winnings in 2016 were China ($19.3 million), the U.S. ($14.7 million) and South Korea ($11.9 million). If you’re thinking about becoming a pro gamer, you may be interested in seeing which games rake in the most dough:
Although Dota 2 overshadows all other games, Heroes of the Storm (released in June 2015) and Hearthstone (March 2014) have breached the top 10 and are poised to overthrow Counter-Strike by the turn of 2018.
Companies take notice
Such growth has attracted the attention of big companies like Coca-Cola Co.KO, -0.05% and Red Bull, which not only sponsored, but also worked on organizing their own events, for gamers to compete in. Other prominent sponsors include Logitech International SA LOGI, -1.02% Razer and Intel Corp. INTC, +0.39% which has been sponsoring such events for over 10 years. Sponsors pay good money to get event exposure as teams feature their insignias on their jerseys, websites and social media.
As it is with other sports, age plays a significant role in a player’s success. Historically, 25 has been the most lucrative age for professional gamers. Beyond 25, there is a big drop-off in earnings potential, with ages 31-33 marking the leanest range for gamers aged 15 or above.
So the next time you see your child playing computer games, think twice before saying it’s a waste of time. Gaming could get your kid into college. On April 6, the University of Utah announced it would be offering scholarships for League of Legends players, following in the footsteps of the University of California, Irvine.
There you have it. ESports can no longer be ignored or belittled. What do you think about eSports? Would you support your child in becoming a pro gamer? Or would you yourself take the chance? Please let me know in the comment section below.
H/t reader kevin a.
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