Can eSports Survive in the World Today?
Esports, (also known as electronic sports) is an industry rapidly growing all around the world. The first known esports competition took place at Stanford University in 1972 for a space combat game called Spacewar. However, it was not until Street Fighter II, which released in 1991, that esports competition became players competing against each other, rather than competing for a high score. Then in 2000, with the spread of broadband internet networks in South Korea, esports became extremely popular overseas, and the esports craze was officially global. This craze continued to grow, and esports eventually became what it is today: a booming industry that supports thousands of different jobs across the world. But the question still stands how long can esports continue to grow?
A quick glance at Esports Earnings, a website that tracks the prize pool of major esports leagues and tournaments, it appears that esports have a solid financial backing, thus unlikely to go bankrupt and fade away in an instant. However, financial metrics are not the best for judging an esports survivability, as a popular developer such as Activision-Blizzard could theoretically keep these prizes and run a deficit for many years. Continuing to use Activision-Blizzard as an example, let's look at how Overwatch, a popular team-based shooter is fairing currently in the world in esports.
Overwatch itself was released in May of 2016, and quickly there were unofficial tournaments worldwide. However, Overwatch League, the official league sponsored by Activision-Blizzard did not begin its inaugural season until January of 2018. While Blizzard continues to grow the league and add expansion teams, the numbers aren’t looking too good for the league. Overwatch League’s concurrent viewers dropped over 34,000, from 97,168 to 63,505 from 2019-2020. Additionally, while Activision-Blizzard will not release official data, anyone familiar with the game could tell you the player base has dropped drastically. So, despite all the assets being poured into Overwatch League is it destined to fail?
I believe Overwatch League will cease to exist within the next five years or so. Esports has always consisted of two or three "giants," or games that have managed to stay relevant for years on end. Today these are games are League of Legends or Counter-Strike Global Offensive, both of which are games with a diverse fan base that have supported both the game and the esport for well over a decade. Overwatch, and even Fortnite, while at their peaks were massively supported games engrained in mainstream culture, will likely fall into the category of games that rose to glory quickly, but peaked and fell off just as fast, with new games stealing their thunder.
However, even though esports is still rapidly expanding, I would expect this cycle of no more than 3-5 games remaining prevalent for over a decade to continue, but I do expect more games to dabble with esports even if they are not in the traditional genres that many esports games fit into today. Overall, while esports is continuing to rapidly grow, I do not expect it to become a stable industry at any point. But it will survive, as one way or another esports will continue to crawl in and out of mainstream culture for many more years to come.