The esports industry - Hot Business Trends Impossible to Ignore

The esports industry and its roots in the gigantic multi-billion-dollar video-gaming sector are developing, evolving and making advances in how the future of entertainment and sports might look like.

And the Esports Conex event offers resources that enable participants to reach the new generation of digitally weaned leisure seekers for whom watching or playing immersive competitive video-gaming is at the core of popular culture.

So, we’re taking a look at the coming year.

Esports industry - Esports Conex 2023

 

Like all businesses, esports ventures have been impacted by fears of a global economic recession, a cost-of-living crisis for consumers, job cuts, supply-chain issues triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war, and the routing of the cryptocurrency market ignited by the earth-shattering bankruptcy of the US-based FTX exchange.

All this comes after the global economic meltdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, if the latter experience taught us anything, it is the resilience of esports and related video-gaming sectors.

Unlike traditional live-entertainment and sports, esports used innovative tech to pivot its dependence on in-person competitions and extended the same experience online for fans.

Esports Conex welcomes 2023 fully confident that the still young esports business has plenty of room for growth. Here is our rundown of the hottest trends set to be key discussion points this year.

 

Steady Revenue and Audience Growth:

Esports is underpinned by the solid video-games sector, which research group Newzoo predicts will generate almost US$197bn for 2022. Esports might be miniscule by comparison, expecting to yield US$1.38 last year. Yet, not only has its global audience size boasted a healthy 8.7% growth rate to 532 million in 2022, the number of enthusiasts and devotees alone is forecast to soar to 318 million in 2025, from 2022’s 261 million. As well as its revenue streams from popular tournaments, esports will be boosted via more income collected by professional gamers, influencers and streamers playing competitive gaming on platforms like Twitch and YouTube, according to sports-news and betting firm Sportslens.com. Their combined income (from advertising to fan donations and subscriptions) is expected to shoot up 22% to US$106m this year.

Web3.0: Hot, Hope or Hype: Esports’s adoption and adaptation of Web3.0, the still-emerging but inevitable next version of the Internet, are a given. Web3.0 will be the foundation for creating the metaverse, the equally evolving virtual world that melds the physical and the digital. It does this by using the hyper-realism of Virtual Reality (VR), plus Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and cloud computing to offer professional users and fans a more immersive way of enjoying gaming via their avatars. The intellectual properties (IP) of esports organisations, game publishers and related tech companies inside the metaverse will be protected by blockchain tech, a decentralised system where business transactions are made with smart contracts, cryptocurrencies and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) via peer-to-peer networks (as opposed to current traditional centralised systems on a single server). That democratisation has inspired esports organisations, teams and gaming companies to explore this innovative arena. They include Japanese games group Square Enix, and UK esports organisation Fnatic.

But these are still very early days for Web3.0.

 

Exploring Monetisation: Where is the money coming from in esports? That question will continue to be on everyone’s lips. Investors, from financiers, esports organisations, game publishers to brand owners, are examining how to exploit the growing number of engaged esports audiences and the enhanced value of esports IP to make a profit. Endemic and non-endemic brands will continue to sponsor professional competitive gaming (players, teams and events), which boasts some of the most engaged audiences in media and entertainment. But in a fragmented monetisation space, developing other revenue streams will be crucial. They include tournament ticket sales, traditional and digital merchandise sales (including in-game purchases), media rights via streaming platforms, team-franchise systems, advertising around competitions and original content (via streaming platforms, in-game advertising), and direct fan donations. Innovative blockchain-powered opportunities are expected to emerge with fans prepared to pay for direct investment in favourite teams/players via rare digital-only or hybrid assets like NFTs.

Esports industry - Istock: BlackJack3D

NFT concept. 3D render

 

Audience Profile: Esports content creators and providers should be keeping a close watch on young consumers belonging to the categories Generation Z (born in 1997 onwards) and Generation Alpha (born after 2010). Raised on digital entertainment, Gen Z consumers of all types consider gaming to be key to their cultural lives, according to consultancy giant Deloitte. And how they participate in and contribute to competitive gaming will influence their younger siblings in the Gen Alpha group. In an era where young consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to spending disposable cash on entertainment, Gen Z have a reported US$360bn-plus in purchasing power, a Bloomberg reports states. If gaming/esports brands want some of that cash, they need to take into account these young people’s concerns. High on the list are DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) values, and how sustainability strategies will impact the climate-crisis debate.

 

Female Players: The international esports landscape will need to level up the number of women players in professional tournaments, if the sector is to benefit from the diversity of talent that appeals to fans and brands. Newzoo states almost 50% of the world’s gamers are women. And esports organisations are responding by creating professional female-only teams. Moreover, despite the toxic sexism video-gaming is still criticised for, the industry is encouraging women to take up roles in other areas of the esports ecosystem, such as coaching and broadcasting. However, at the professional level, women will struggle to enter the business if the pay gap between male and female players remains a chasm. According to esportsearnings.com, the overall highest-earning professional esports player in January 2023 was Dota 2 player NOtail/ N0tail (real name Johan Sundstein), a member of European organisation OG Esports. In total, he has amassed an estimated US$7.18m. On the other hand, with US$442,479 in total earnings, Canada’s Sasha (real name Sacha Hostyn) is the highest female earner in the same month – just over 6% of N0tail’s total income.

Esports industry - Istock: mihailomilovanovic

 

Opportunities for Investors: The threat of a worldwide recession has made investors cautious and, according to media reports, investors in esports are no different. If fact, some have openly expressed their disappointment in esports in a New York Times article. And the move by US-based uber esports organisation Faze Clan to float on the stock exchange has not been a smooth one. But competitive gaming continues to attract money as seen in recent deals involving Singapore-based Nova Hyper Esports, and Spain’s Rebels Gaming. These might not be megadeals and hint at a correction to the feverish funding that saw US$4.5bn poured into esports in 2018 alone (Deloitte). But when Big Tech corporation Microsoft, which owns one of the world’s biggest gaming brands Xbox, offers to buy Activision Blizzard, a rival as well as owner of one of the largest esports businesses ever, expect the investment buzz around esports to spike – anti-trust regulators permitting.

 

Other topics that will dominate the esports industry debate this year:

China and the US might be the world’s biggest video-games regions in terms of revenue and number of players, but plans by the Olympic Games organisers the IOC to launch the Olympic Esports Week festival in 22-25 June 2023 in Singapore is surely a serious step towards organised competitive gaming going mainstream.

Last year, Saudi Arabia announced ambitions to become one of the world’s biggest esports markets via investments; this year expect some action from Russia and the Middle East too.

Roblox, the gaming platform that invites users to create their own content, play and share with others, continues to boast global growth. Can we expect to see soon the rise of independent game titles that will make esports organisations less dependent on multinational game publishers?

Do rival esports teams need to be in the same physical venue to offer high-quality entertainment? The winners of last year’s IBC Accelerator Project of the Year Award in 2021 were able to use a combination of the ultra-fast high-speed 5G Internet network, VR, AR and live animated avatars to demonstrate the possibility of hosting an esports competition from two different locations in real time.

Esports Conex will be open for business on 23-24 May 2023 in Paris at the Maison de la Mutualité.

About Author

Juliana Koranteng is the founder/editor-in-chief of MediaTainment Finance (MTF) and TechMutiny, the business journals that cover investments in international media, entertainment and creative sectors, and the impact of related digital technologies.

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