Gaming Bites pt.1: Esports is a marathon, not a sprint

With Gaming Bites, I try to share my current thoughts about the gaming and esports market with articles that can be read in under 5 minutes.

There has been a lot of talk about the fact that the future belongs to esports and that an individual esport will become bigger than any sport known today. I myself believe in this thesis. However, too many people expect this to happen in a time frame of 5–10 years. I am, however, 100% convinced that it will take at least 20 years before esports can really be compared with the biggest sports.

First of all, we need to understand how big some sports are today: I am German and, as in most European countries, soccer is the dominant sport. I have just seen a video of the last two minutes of Germany winning the 2014 World Cup. And although that was six years ago and I knew exactly how the game ended, I was still incredibly nervous every time Argentina had control of the ball. I also know a lot of friends who think similarly when it comes to winning the World Cup or beating Brazil 7–1 in 2014. And when you look at it more closely, it’s not really a surprise. The FIFA World Cup is the most prestigious sporting event in the world and means a lot to people all over the world. Soccer is deeply rooted in society and has many fans in all demographic groups. That is why, at an event as big as the World Cup, even most people who are not football fans will start watching and discussing the games. They just have to because, for months during the World Cup, there will be virtually no other topic than our national team. The only events with similar media coverage are major tragedies and the elections.

Stop here and ask yourself: “Will the world stop spinning because of an esport tournament in 5–10 years?”

My answer is “no.” And until the answer is “yes”, esports will not overcome sport.
So what kind of event is it going to take for the world to stop spinning? An event is required where the overwhelming majority of the population attaches such a high importance to the event that they devote a large part of their attention to it. The important thing to remember is that it is not enough if the majority of 10 to 35-year-olds care about it. Although it would be a major event, it would not have the same social impact as the FIFA World Cup.

As today's data indicates, esports will not grow at the same rate across all demographic areas. Some people may think it’s only a matter of time before people from all demographics start watching esports whether or not they have ever played a video game. But let’s be honest: this outcome is rather unlikely, and we can’t blame anyone for not caring about esports. If you’ve never played a video game, it’s much harder to understand the beauty behind the respective esport. Again, don’t get me wrong: if a new game blows up in Europe or the US, in a comparable way Free Fire did in Brazil, I could well imagine that within 18 months of the game becoming big, this esport would fill stadiums with over 40,000 seats. But the demographic composition of this audience will be mainly composed of people who have played the game or other games. And these people will mostly be under 30 years old.

I don’t want to go too much into how I expect esports to grow, because Tomi Kovanen has written a really good article about it that shares most of my beliefs. But to give you a brief idea: My thesis is that the majority of people over the age of 25 who are not interested in gaming right now will never be interested in esports. However, every newborn baby is quite likely to become an esports fan, since video games are becoming the dominant hobby for most teenagers and children even more than today. In addition, the infrastructure is being built to get them interested in esport, and the ecosystem already looks very different from what it did seven years ago when I first became interested. Consequently, to reach the massive scale esports needs to dethrone soccer (or the NFL/Superbowl), all it takes is time. A lot of time.

Esports is already big and it will continue to grow in the coming years but until it is rooted in most demographics, it cannot be compared to big sports because its societal importance is not on the same level.