ESPORTS ISN’T A SPORT, IT’S THE IDEA OF SPORTS
Since the birth of video games, we’ve played to win. It began with high scores and simple 1v1 games, progressed through games with an objective of story completion and now, finally, an online free-for-all where a kid in Japan and an adult in Mumbai can duke it out in a battle royale without ever meeting.
Video games were bound to eventually become competitions made to be consumed publicly on a global scale. In 2021, the Free Fire World Series had 5.4 million concurrent viewers. Not concurrent players. Concurrent viewers.
So why don’t we have esports on primetime network television? I pose that we need to stop talking about esports as a sport. Esports isn’t a sport. It’s thousands of sports. A diehard Fortnite fan may not find a StarCraft II tournament compelling, whose fans in turn may not care for Forza or Rocket League. As of 2020, there were 2.8 billion gamers on planet Earth. But there exists no world where all 2.8 billion watch one esports tournament. 3.6 billion people watched the World Cup, and that was just one sport.
So does that mean esports is screwed? Are there not enough fans of each individual game on a competitive level to make it work?
Absolutely not. But we need to talk about it in the right way.
Rather than discussing the reach of esports as compared to other live sports, we need to talk about the depth of fandom within esports viewers. Its specificity is its greatest attribute. Many people like baseball, but don’t spend hours per day playing baseball. For Fortnite, many fans are playing for hours per day.
Esports markets a monetizable and specific game that viewers can enjoy without much additional expense (assuming fans already own a computer). Data capture is strong for these fans as all require a login, so remarketing is easy. The second-screen experience is the actual game.
The market will thrive if and only if the specific esport is able to tell this story properly.
Phil Ranta is a digital media veteran building creator networks at Facebook, Mobcrush, Studio71, and Fullscreen. He is also a lifelong gamer who grew up with NES / SNES RPGs and tries his best to fit gaming into his life as the CEO of Wormhole Labs, a husband, and a father to two amazing babies.