The Incredible Growth of eSports [+ eSports Statistics]

The eSports industry has seen tremendous growth over the years, both in terms of viewership and revenue. The increasing viewership is what mainly contributed to the revenue growth – and it's not just because those viewers are generating revenue. Seeing the potential of reaching a large and engaged audience, brands are investing in eSports marketing, both directly and indirectly. This has contributed to rapid revenue growth in the industry, only slowed down by COVID limiting significant public eSports events, although things seem to be returning to normal in 2022.

eSports has also experienced growth in several other aspects, with many of them interrelated in one way or another. In this post, you will learn more about just how much the eSports industry is growing so you can understand how to leverage it.

Newzoo expanded on their 2020 Global eSports Review with their 2021 Global Esports & Live Streaming Market Report, which analyzes the latest eSports and live streaming market trends and market developments toward 2024. They now recognize the significant role that livestreaming plays in the eSports and gaming worlds. We summarize many of their key findings in this article and will update it further when they release their 2022 edition.

Newzoo defines eSports as being "professional or semi-professional competitive gaming in an organized format (tournament or league) with a specific goal/prize, such as winning a championship title or prize money)." The eSports stats we include here relate to professional competitive gaming content only and don't include amateur competitions or livestreaming around non-organized competitive gaming. Newzoo separates the eSports market from the live-streaming market (aka gaming market).

For the purposes of these stats, Newzoo separates eSports enthusiasts from occasional viewers. They define eSports enthusiasts as people who watch professional eSports content more than once a month and occasional viewers as those who watch professional content less regularly than that. Note that some of the statistics we report here differ from what we wrote in an earlier version of this article due to a change in Newzoo's definitions and recognition of what they consider professional eSports.

We also collate a selection of interesting recent eSports statistics near the bottom of this post.


The Incredible Growth of eSports [+ eSports Statistics]:


eSports Viewership is Growing

Thanks to the arrival of COVID-19, the nature of eSports has changed. The lines between eSports, livestreaming, and even influencer marketing have become blurred. The pandemic led to viewing spikes across all livestreaming platforms. People were required to spend time at home during the lockdown and so turned to livestreaming to wile away their time. While the eSports market faced challenges during this time, it also saw considerable growth and expanded into markets where there had previously been little activity. However, the industry suffered from the cancellation of many in-person events, and some international events had to be replaced by regional competitions.

There had already been a significant increase in eSports viewers since 2016 – both occasional viewers and enthusiasts, i.e., viewers who watch it regularly. Between 2018 and 2019, there was a 12.3% increase year over year (using Newzoo's old definitions). In Newzoo's 2019 adjusted figures, there were 200.8 million occasional viewers and 197 million eSports enthusiasts, making the total audience 397.8 million. The year-over-year growth continued in 2020, with 220.5 million occasional viewers and 215.4 million eSports enthusiasts, a combined eSports audience of 435.9 million.

Newzoo expected growth to continue through 2021, with 8.7% year-on-year growth, ending the year with 240.0 million occasional viewers and 234.0 million eSports enthusiasts, a total eSports audience of 474.0 million.

esports audience growth

Source: newzoo.com

By 2024, Newzoo predicts that the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for eSports enthusiasts from 2019 to 2024 will be approximately 7.7%. They expect that the number of occasional viewers will grow to 291.6 million. And that there will be 285.7 million eSports enthusiasts, making the total audience 577.2 million.

eSports is growing across the globe. Mature markets like North America and Western Europe are continuing to grow. However, over the last year, audience numbers were most affected by growth markets in the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. In addition, increased use of mobile for streaming has driven demand in markets like India and Brazil.


eSports Revenue Growth and How Brands are Contributing to It

Realizing the potential of tapping into the eSports market, some brands have already made significant eSports marketing investments. So, the industry has seen an impressive increase in revenue in recent years.

According to the earlier Newzoo analysis, there was an average revenue increase of more than 30% annually until 2018. The rate of increase decreased at this point; however, eSports revenue in 2019 was $957.5 million, still a 23.3% YOY growth (and slightly higher than what Newzoo had predicted). 

Yet, COVID-19 had a noticeable impact on eSports revenue, and Newzoo revised its 2020 eSports revenue estimates downward from $1100.1 million (as predicted in February 2020) to $950.3 million globally. However, even this prediction wasn't pessimistic enough, with actual global eSports revenue being $947.1 million in 2020. This represented a fall of 1.1% in YOY revenues. This fall in revenue predominantly occurred because there was limited in-person attendance at eSports events, with restrictions on large gatherings. As we have seen elsewhere, eSports and gaming are more popular than ever – there are, however, COVID-related restrictions on revenue streams at the moment.

However, 2021 looked more favorable in terms of eSports revenue growth. Newzoo predicted yearly revenues to reach $1084.1 million, representing year-on-year growth of 14.5%. In addition, they believed that China would generate more than a third of worldwide eSports revenues.

Looking further forward to 2024, Newzoo predicts eSports revenues to reach $1617.7 million, showing a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11.1% from 2019 to 2024.

esports revenue

Newzoo’s latest estimates of eSports revenue streams suggested that the 2021 total of $1084.1 million was likely to be made up as follows: sponsorship $641.0 million (up 11.6% YoY), media rights $192.6 million (up 13.4%), publisher fees $126.6 million (up 22.6%), merchandise & tickets $66.65 million (up 13.8%), digital $32.3 million (up 50.4%), and streaming $25.1 million (up 25.7%). Although sponsorship revenues are clearly the foundation of eSports revenue, it is expected that ticket revenues will recover from COVID-19 restrictions, and eSports organizers and teams will continue to diversify.


Games Live Streaming Audience

Newzoo has added additional information in the 2021 report on games live streaming. The platforms differ across the world, but the main ones in the west are Twitch and YouTube Live. Gaming livestreaming is now highly popular in China on streaming platforms such as Douyin, Huya, Zhangi, Huomao, and PandaTV.

The gaming livestreaming audiences for 2019 and 2020 were 593.2 million and 662.7 million, respectively. The 11.7% growth over 2020 was caused by the increased time spent at home and social distancing requirements during the pandemic. 

Newzoo predicted further growth of 10.0% to 728.8 million viewers in 2021. By 2024, they believe that the global gaming livestreaming audience will be 830.3 million, a CAGR of 9.2% over 2019-2024.

China is now a mature market. However, Newzoo still predicts that China's gaming livestreaming audience will grow from 185.5 million in 2020 to 214.3 million in 2024.

They also expect double-digit growth rates in many developing countries, with the predicted CAGR for the following regions through to 2024 expected to be: Latin America (+14.0%), Middle East and Africa (+15.1%), Central Southern Asia (+14.8%), and Southeast Asia (+14.8%).

Spanish and Portuguese live broadcasts experienced the most significant growth in 2020. After English, they are now the second and third most used languages in livestreaming. Spanish streams grew by 369% to 1.4 billion hours watched, and Portuguese by 189% to 1.1 billion hours watched.


eSports Awareness is Increasing

One of the main reasons there has been growth in eSports viewership is that more people are learning about it. There has been a tremendous rise in awareness of the eSports industry since 2015. There were slightly more than 800,000 people who had heard about it back then. These numbers soon changed, and by the following year, more than a billion people had learned about eSports.

These numbers continued to increase by a few hundred thousand annually in the following years. By 2017, eSports awareness had risen to 1.28 billion before reaching 1.43 billion in 2018 and 1.8 billion in 2019. According to Newzoo predictions, global awareness of eSports was expected to rise to 2.0 billion in 2020, including 530.4 million Chinese. Unfortunately, Newzoo doesn't appear to have publicly released more recent data regarding this.

So, what does this increase in viewership and awareness mean for brands? For the most part, it says that they have a new channel to target in their marketing mix. But it also says that they have more people to reach within the eSports industry. So, eSports marketing will help them expand their reach and deliver their marketing messages through engaging channels.


The Rise of Platforms Offering Live eSports Coverage

It's no surprise that more people watch eSports videos and events, considering how online platforms now make watching eSports content more accessible. eSports streamers use these platforms to broadcast live coverage of events and their own gameplay. This makes it easier for fans to participate in their favorite events and engage with their preferred eSports athletes.

So, you can see an increase in the number of viewers and broadcasters on these platforms as well. Although not all the viewers and broadcasters on these platforms are relevant to the eSports industry, this increase still likely affects the industry.

Streamlabs made some interesting observations in their Q3 2021 report. These stats merge both the eSports market and the gaming market when compared with Newzoo stats.  The majority of livestream viewers still prefer Twitch. With 5.79 billion hours of viewing over the quarter, it represents 70.5% of the market share for hours watched. However, the most significant jump came in Q2 2020, as Covid lockdowns first hit, when Twitch viewers increased their viewing from Q1's 3.11 billion hours to 5.12 billion hours. 

Twitch's dominance is even more apparent when looking at total hours streamed, where Twitch had 89.7% of the live game streaming market, compared to Facebook Gaming's 6.9% and YouTube Gaming Live's 3.4%.

Viewership for YouTube Gaming has plummeted by about 540 million hours from Q3 2020 to Q3 2021 to reach 1.13 billion hours, 13.8% of all game streaming hours watched. Correspondingly, total hours streamed on YouTube Gaming Live in Q3 2021 fell from 12.5 million (5.5%) to 8.4 million (3.4%).

On the other hand, Facebook Gaming viewership grew by about 250 million hours to 1.29 billion hours in Q3 2021 compared to the same quarter in 2020, 15.7% of the total hours watched. Total hours streamed on YouTube Gaming Live in Q3 2021 rose from 7.6 million (3.4%) to 17.1 million (6.9%).

Twitchtracker provides some interesting statistics about Twitch's progression over the years. For example, COVID lockdowns have led to many people increasing their time on Twitch. As a result, a colossal 1,460 billion minutes were watched in 2021, up from 660 billion minutes in 2019. Similarly, 8.4 million unique creators were streaming each month on Twitch, compared to 6.9 million monthly streamers in 2020 and 3.64 million in 2019. The peak number of streamers was 9.9 million in the heart of Covid in January 2021.

Viewers and streamer numbers have fallen from their peak levels in 2022, with most places easing lockdown restrictions. 

The platform also saw a steady increase in channels simultaneously broadcasting live. This number increased by 20% in 2019, with 49,500 average concurrent live channels. In 2020, the increase was 77%, with 87,500 average concurrent live channels. In 2021, this increased a further 20% to 105,000 average concurrent streamers. Numbers have fallen 4% to 100,500 so far in 2022, with more streamers back at work and school. There has been a ton of activity on these platforms, signifying that eSports and gaming fans are highly active and engaged with relevant content.


Earnings in eSports Tournaments

There's little doubt that with so much growth in many of these statistics, there would also be growth in eSports tournament prize money and player earnings – at least until COVID arrived. 

In 2019, the total prize money for 5591 tournaments was $236,221,114. So, the mean tournament prize pool was $42,250. With 28,336 active players at these tournaments, each player's mean earnings were $8,336, and their median earnings were $666.67 per player.

With the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, the overall total prize money fell to $119,457,468 from just 4478 tournaments. The mean tournament prize pool was $26,677. With 24,231 active players at these tournaments, each player's mean earnings were $4,930, and their median earnings were $582.08 per player.


10 Notable eSports Statistics

Notable eSports Statistics

1. Video Games and eSports Expected to Grow by 6% Between 2020 and 2025

Global accounting firm PWC released their Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2021–2025, five-year projections of consumer and advertiser spending data across 14 segments and 53 territories. They saw virtual reality as the most significant growth segment, with 30% growth in that timeframe, followed closely by cinema (29%) and data consumption (27%). They lumped video games and eSports together and predicted that they would show a combined 6% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over the five years.

2. eSports Total US Revenue Predicted to be $516M by 2023

PWC also predicts continued growth in eSports revenue, reaching $516M in the US by 2023. This will cover all facets, including consumer ticket sales, sponsorship, streaming advertising, consumer contribution, and media rights.

PWC observes that "sponsorship and media rights revenue in eConsumer tickets sales Sports are the main drivers in the segment and increase at a 14.7% and 26.8% CAGR respectively to 2023."

It should be noted that PWC's analysis was made before Covid, which has altered things somewhat (particularly for in-person events, significantly affecting ticket sales). Still, things are moving back towards their pre-Covid track now.

3. $1.182M eSports Prize Money 

According to eSports Earnings, a total of $1,182,221,050.12 has now been paid out as prize money in eSports tournaments. The last pre-Covid year, 2019, still holds the record for the most prize money, $241,354,528.60. The onset of Covid saw a significant drop in prize money competed for in 2020 - $127,877,249.11, although things rebounded nicely in 2021, $213,288,016.97.

4. $40M Largest Team Tournament Prize Pool

The International 2021 in Bucharest, Romania, holds the record for the highest prize pool (also the highest team prize pool), worth $US40,018,400. Eighteen teams competed between October 7 and 17, 2021, playing Dota 2. The winning team, Team Spirit, earned $18,208,300.

5. $15.2M Largest Individual Tournament Prize Pool

eSports isn't just for teams, however. You will also find tournaments where you can play solo. The best paying was the Fortnite World Cup Finals 2019, which had a solo prize pool of $US15,287,500, with $3 million going to the top player (Kyle Giersdorf - Bugha).

6. $280M Prizes Awarded to Players of Dota 2

If you're an eGamer, the most lucrative game for you to play is Dota 2. 4279 players have won $280,888,533.77 by playing the game in 1622 tournaments.

Notably, Dota 2 players have won more than double the prizes of the next most popular game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive ($132,784,312.05). And this is despite there being considerably more CS:GO players (14,852) and tournaments (6,159). This is probably a reflection of changing tastes in eSports, with players favoring Dota 2 more recently.

7. Mew2King has 615 Tournament Results

Jason Kimmerman (aka Mew2King) holds the record for most tournament results. He’s made $284,169.31 from 615 tournaments. Perhaps surprisingly, his most frequent tournament game is Super Smash Bros. Melee, which he has competed in 355 times, 57.72% of his tournament results.

8. 20–24-Year-Olds Perform Best in eSport Tournaments

 eSports Earnings has calculated total earnings by age (for those gamers who have listed their ages when entering tournaments). Intriguingly, the best players were generally in their early-mid 20s. The top five ages are:

  1. 24 Years Old $58,880,734.35 - 1795 Players
  2. 23 Years Old $57,342,145.26 - 2186 Players
  3. 21 Years Old $57,319,670.70 - 2784 Players
  4. 22 Years Old $55,273,909.92 - 2516 Players
  5. 20 Years Old $49,799,985.20 - 2886 Players

The fact that France's Anatoly Vaisser won $35.19 playing a playchess.com chess tournament at age 73 gives hope to all other eSports players and gamers that they can continue to find success as they age.

9. DWG Kia was the Most Watched eSports Team in 2021

eSports Charts has calculated the top eSports teams of 2021 in terms of hours watched. The top position goes to DWG Kia playing League of Legends, who had people watching them for a staggering 96.31 million hours. Other teams with more than 60 million hours of watch-time include NaVi (87.45 million hours), T1 (74.14 million hours), and RRQ Hoshi (76.70 million hours).

10. 174.82M Hours watching the 2021 World Championship [Worlds 2021]

League of Legends Worlds 2021 was the most-watched eSports event of 2021, indeed the most-watched of all time. People spent more than 174.8 million hours watching the tournament. Second place in 2021 went to The International 10, with viewers watching 107.2 million hours.

At peak, 4,018,728 people watched the Grand Finals of Worlds 2021 between EDG and DWGK on 6th November 2021 at 17:00, and there were 1,298,219 viewers on average over its 135 hours.

It helped that the world championship was broadcast live on Afreeca TV, Facebook Live, Mildom, Nimo TV, OPENREC.tv, Trovo, Twitch, ВКонтакте Live, and YouTube Live.


Conclusion

These stats showcase eSports' rapid growth until the recent temporary reduction due to the effects of COVID on large-scale events. Gamers are spending more time than ever on the streaming platforms at the moment; however, until recently, they had less competitive content to view.

But this will only be temporary. The reduction in eSports events is considerably less than for many traditional sporting occasions. Many competitive eSports continue. You can still sponsor teams at tournaments (remember that sponsorship has continued to rise, despite the effects of COVID). Perhaps you could also partner with influencers in the industry and have them promote your brand or review your products. There are tons of opportunities you can seize to ride the wave of eSports' popularity.

Frequently Asked Questions

How big of an industry is eSports?

In 2021, the global eSports industry was valued at more than 1 billion US Dollars. That's a nearly 50% increase from the year before in 2020. The eSports industry across the globe is forecasted to grow to more than 1.64 billion dollars by 2024.

How big is eSports now?

Global awareness of eSports is growing, and fast. In 2019, global awareness of eSports was 1.8 billion, and that number is only rising. In 2021, the global eSports industry was valued at more than 1 billion US Dollars. That's a nearly 50% increase from the year before in 2020.

What is the most played eSport?

These are the biggest and most played esports games:
Dota 2.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Fortnite.
League of Legends.

Arena of Valor.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG).

StarCraft II.
Overwatch.

Is eSports a growing industry?

The eSports industry is a hugely growing industry, and it's only forecasted to grow more in the coming years, both in terms of viewership and revenue. Growing viewership of esports is largely the contributing factor to billions of dollars in revenue.

Who is the richest gamer?

The richest gamer is Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, and he is estimated to be worth $30 million. He is an iconic gamer, loved and feared in the gaming community. However, most of his money comes from streaming rather than winning tournaments nowadays. The highest-earning eSports player is Johan "N0tail" Sundstein, who has earned $7,184,163.05 from 130 tournaments. Most of this came from playing Dota.

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