In the first of TheGamingEconomy’s 2021 Predictions series, professionals from across the esports landscape give their opinion on the future of a sector both bolstered, and buffeted, by the Covid-19 pandemic. Through the suspension of traditional sporting events in Q2-Q3 2020, consumer and investor attention towards esports surged, driving USD$1.837bn (£1.366bn) of funding to the sector since April (as of 09:00 GMT 7th December 2020).
A landmark shift in brand advertising
The video games and esports industry has seen huge success this year. Even before the pandemic, esports was growing rapidly as entertainment continued to lean more and more to digital, but with stay at home orders in place, this accelerated the shift even more. In particular, gaming and esports has been able to thrive during this time, whereas traditional sports came to a standstill, leading gaming and esports to become a dominant form of entertainment. As an example, one of Enthusiast Gaming’s top esports events, EGLX, went entirely virtual this year and was watched by over 12 million fans around the world.
As the success of gaming and esports continues to climb, it’s also earning more attention from advertisers seeking to reach the highly coveted Gen Z and millennial audiences – EGLX was sponsored by top brands including TikTok, SpiderTech and G Fuel. We expect to see this interest from advertisers continue to grow in 2021 as more and more companies realise the value in the highly engaged and fast-growing gaming and esports audience. Though it may roll out over the next few years, we’re anticipating a major shift in brand interest and advertising to focus on esports and gaming, similar to the early 2000’s when internet ads took over from traditional print.
Adrian Montgomery, CEO, Enthusiast Gaming
Virtually bringing in the new year
Times Square New Year’s Eve is one of the most recognised and televised entertainment events in the world, and this year the stage is set to ring in the new year how we spent the majority of 2020, playing video games and connecting virtually: One Times Square
Virtual New Year’s Eve celebration will not only provide a safe way to enjoy celebrating a new year, but it will also mark a new era as the iconic event is shepherded into the future. No population has been spared from the impact of COVID-19 and this year we, at Ultimate Gamer, are taking a moment in time to appreciate that we made it to the end of 2020 by hosting two-weeks of gaming-focused programming leading up to when the clock strikes midnight.
Steve Suarez, CEO, Ultimate Gamer
The new home for savvy brands and celebrities
As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt across the entertainment industry with television, film, sports and concert cancellations and postponements, celebrities and pro athletes are looking for outlets, beyond social media, to leverage for fan interaction. Enter gaming, which promises to be vastly more dynamic than any other medium used.
Gordon Hayward, star forward for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, became the first professional athlete to sign with a pro gaming league, IGN’s Pro League, back in 2011. Since then, athletes across all major sports have participated in eSports. In fact, this past spring and summer, we even saw ESPN and FOX host NBA and NFL stars to stream live gameplay of NBA 2K20 and Madden NFL with the winners donating money to various COVID-19 relief causes.
Musicians have also used “traditional” gaming platforms to raise awareness for causes and to stream live concerts in the wake of live music cancellations. Travis Scott (or more accurately, his avatar) famously held a short concert in Fortnite, while Trey Anastasio of Phish raised more than USD$1m (£747,700) for addiction recovery by streaming a series of concerts through Twitch.
All of this points to a future for eSports where celebrities and athletes alike can use their platforms for altruistic purposes, raising money for charity through mini tournaments involving their fans and supporters, in addition to savvy brands looking to gain new fans. After all, getting a Twitter shout out from an actor is fun, but strapping on a headset and playing Call of Duty with your favourite NBA star would likely be the thrill of a lifetime!
Jim Johnson, VP, Account Planning, VDX.tv
Growth, fragmentation, and evolution
As people have been spending more time at home this year, they have been consuming more live streamed content. While the popularity of streaming platforms has been well-documented over the years, Spiketrap observed a considerable jump in audience media consumption and engagement, beginning in March of this year.
Unsurprisingly, increased viewership peaked in the month of April, when the most stay-at-home orders were in place. Nonetheless, viewership and engagement have remained at elevated levels since, maintaining a nearly 50% lift over pre-pandemic levels.
Similarly, more people are streaming a greater variety and volume of content than ever before. Total available livestream content produced each day has increased nearly 30% since earlier this year, and new audiences are latching on.
As we’ve observed millions of conversations in 2020, people are finding the streams that resonate with their entertainment needs. As such, while the overall ecosystem is growing, it is also becoming more fragmented as streamers and audiences alike seek more meaningful connections. The reinvention of concerts in 2020 — whether streamed from a stage or within a game — is a quintessential example of how live events are evolving.
Creators are reinventing how they connect with their audiences, who in turn are stumbling onto established streaming platforms and discovering new content along the way. It’s an evolution that benefits the entire ecosystem.
Mike Owen, Chief Business Officer, Spiketrap
A driving force in popular culture
Accelerated by both COVID-19 and the advancement and adoption of immersive technology, 2020 was a year in which the games and esports industry solidified its position as a driving force in popular culture. Esports athletes and personalities are the new faces establishing what is cool and hot among the rapidly growing gaming community.
Key examples of this pop culture relevance include the massive success of Travis Scott’s concert in FORTNITE, FAZE Clan’s entrance into the film industry and the launch of Nike and Louis Vuitton’s partnerships with Riot Games.
2021 will build on this success as the music, streetwear and film industries look to further integrate themselves into game communities and culture through in-game integrations. Simultaneously, game related IP will go mainstream as those same companies look to feature in game characters in non-gaming platforms (Hello, K/DA…!).
Roblox’s IPO will bring Wall Street’s attention to the power of cloud gaming, something that Main Street has known for years.
Mobile, already the dominant platform in Southeast Asia and India, will bring Tencent even more shareholder value as India finally eases up on restrictions on Chinese companies in late 2021.
Michael Patent, Founder & President, Culture Group
Rise of the Status Ecosystem
The esports industry has shown immense growth in 2020 and I believe 2021 will most likely be a period of innovation and excitement. For fantasy esports in particular, our users’ engagement with our seasonal leagues have shown us that primarily, the future of fantasy is tied to what I refer to as the burgeoning “Status Ecosystem.” We’ve seen that people who play on our platform and who have become part of our Discord community are increasingly more engaged as we add more components to the “Status Ecosystem.” Virtual currency, rankings, badges, skins and image banners are now part of the Esports One experience and give our members further opportunities to “flex” on their fellow competitors, show off their skill and prowess as fantasy esports competitors.
It’s my belief that the “Status Ecosystem” is not only here to stay, it’s likely going to get bigger. As fantasy esports matures, and more titles are supported with fantasy games, the opportunities for growth and evolution of community building are endless. Sponsor integration and more prestigious prizes are just two obvious examples. As fantasy esports grows, the “Status Ecosystem” will likely turn players into stars in their own right as elite-level badges and other customizations become an expected part of the experience.
Matt Gunnin, CEO and Co-Founder, Esports One
A transformational year
We will look back on 2020 as a transformational year where esports accelerated its trend towards becoming the most valuable global entertainment asset – eclipsing that of mainstream sports. We will see more convergence between mainstream sports and esports, such as pro football teams launching their own esports teams. We’ll also see more and more high profile player transfer fees – particularly in the western part of the world.
With this ever-increasing interest in esports, we’ll start to see more personalities evolve from the world of esports as their stories are increasingly told by mainstream media.
Mobile esports viewership is expected to continue to skyrocket. With audience numbers rising and esports very much being on the radar for mainstream brands as a valuable way to engage with a hard to reach Gen-Z audience, I expect that advertising and media dollars will really start to flow into esports.
We’ll see more investment into gaming content from publishers, OTT, broadcasters as a key driver to stay relevant and drive viewership, and I expect that we’ll have one or two more IPO listings as well as the first couple of high profile acquisitions/exits for an esports team.
Charlie Baillie, Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Ampverse