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 large public eSports events.

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 has 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.

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)." Their 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.


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 while 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 expects 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.

By 2024, Newzoo predicts that the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for eSports enthusiasts from 2019-2024 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.

Source: newzoo.com

eSports is growing across the globe. Mature markets like North America and Western Europe are continuing to grow. However, audience numbers over the last year 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 is looking more favorable in terms of eSports revenue growth. Newzoo predicts yearly revenues to reach $1084.1 million, representing year-on-year growth of 14.5%. They believe that China will 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 2019-2024.

Newzoo’s latest estimates of eSports revenue streams, suggest that the 2021 $1084.1 million is 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 this year's 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 Douyu, 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 predicts 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 their 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. They are now the second and third most used languages in livestreaming, after English. 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. Back then, there were slightly more than 800,000 people who had heard about it. These numbers soon changed, and by the following year, more than a billion people had learned about eSports.

These numbers continued to increase in the following years, by a few hundred thousand annually. 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.

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.

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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 Q1 2021 report. These stats merge both the eSports market and the gaming market when comparing with Newzoo stats.  The majority of livestream viewers still prefer Twitch. With 6.34 billion hours of viewing, it represents 72.3% of the market share for hours watched, a 6.5% increase from the previous quarter. Viewership for YouTube Gaming fell about 550 million hours from Q4 2020 to Q1 2021 to reach 1.37 billion hours (15.6%). On the other hand, Facebook Gaming viewership grew by about 156 million hours to 1.06 billion hours, 12.1% of the total hours watched.

As an indication of how much more popular gaming livestreaming is now, compare the total hours watched in Q1 2021 with those viewed in Q1 2020. Twitch viewing has risen from 3,114.1 million hours to 6.34 billion hours, YouTube Gaming viewing increased from 1076.5 million hours to 1.37 billion hours, and Facebook Gaming viewing rose from 553.8 million hours to 1.06 billion hours. The change in a year is colossal.

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. A colossal 1,860 billion minutes were watched in 2020, up from 660 billion minutes in 2019. In the first six months of 2021, 792 billion minutes were watched. Similarly, there are now 9.3 million unique creators streaming each month on Twitch, compared to 6.9 million monthly streamers in 2020 and 3.64 million in 2019.

The platform has also seen a steady increase in the number of 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. So far, in 2021, this has increased by a further 29% to 112,500 average concurrent streamers. So, there is 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.

Source: esportsearnings.com

At the halfway stage of 2021, it looks like figures are starting to improve, with each player's mean earnings currently being $5,395 and their median earnings $705.89 per player.


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, they have less competitive content to view.

But this will only be temporary. The reduction in eSports events is considerably less than 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.
StarCraft II.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG)
Overwatch.
Hearthstone.

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 Jeffree Star, and he is estimated to be worth $200 million. He is popular on YouTube, Twitch, and more.