Sport and recreation as a concept or industry is something which is far from static and seems to be exponentially growing and changing. Sport and recreation as a business is also a concept at the forefront of change. Is the idea of a ‘couch potato’ a viable career path? Should we revisit the definition of a couch potato or concept altogether? The idea of esports is perhaps a new market that seems to challenge the idea of a ‘couch potato’.
The gaming world in previous years seemed to carry a certain stigma with it in terms of a ‘waste of time’ philosophy or ‘mindless’ activity. However, over the last couple of years this seems to be changing. Terry Hearn states that in a Viacom study ‘87% of young people (aged 13-30) play video games’ (Hearn,2017). Alex Walker also shows that in a digital report in Australia the average age of esports players is 33 (Walker, 2015). Does this mean the idea of a few teenagers hiding away in a room with all light blocked out except for the backlit screens is still a reality for 30-year olds? And perhaps a view would be that the 30 somethings ‘just never grew up’. However, a more in-depth analysis into the industry would show otherwise.
According to BBC Sport “esports generated $493m in revenue in 2016, with a global audience of about 320 million people” (BBC Sport, 2017). This graph shows the prediction of growth to 2020 and shows how this industry seems to be growing in not only participants but also audience members.
In previous years any sort of esport tournament would be for a select few who were deemed good enough to compete in a tournament against opponents with similar experience and skill. Tournaments would take place in a certain country and often result in participants operating at a loss to travel to various parts of the world to compete to win; majority of the time this was just for a ‘token of appreciation’ or the latest gaming headset.
Fast forward to today and the industry seems to show an increase in prize money. BBC Sport reported that last year the winning team at the League of Legends world championship shared $1million amongst the team (BBC Sport, 2017). If we bring this closer to home and look at FIFA for example, the FIFA Interactive World Cup had a winning prize of $200,000 for an individual. According to Williams that was an increase from $20,000 from the previous year’s competition. (Williams, 2016).
It’s not only the gaming industry which is involved in the business. In recent years sponsorship has also become a larger part of esports. Due to the rise in not only participants but also viewers, exposure and brand awareness has also created interest in big brands like Coca-Cola. The latest development of FIFA 18 saw an integration with the brand into the in-game features as a sponsor and elements of product placement throughout the game (Moye, 2017).
With the growth in technology and investment in the gaming industry new releases seem to be becoming more and more realistic. Elite football clubs have also invested into this idea and industry in the form of buying players not to compete on the actual field of play but rather on the virtual digitally created field of play. Clubs are now signing players to represent their brand and club when they play in global tournaments or as brand ambassadors. According to Williams in 2016 Manchester City contracted Kieran Brown, ‘to represent the club at various FIFA tournaments and to act as a brand ambassador.’ (Williams, 2016).
Sport as a business and typeof business is changing and continues to change with technological advancements. The fitness industry is growing, and technology is more a part of this than ever before. The development of fitness trackers and fitness watches now give individuals ways to track their running routes, distances and heart rates and ways to monitor their activities and health.
Esports as a concept has been established many years ago, however the overlap with the sports industry is something which is more recent. There is still something very different about playing a sport in front of live supporters and physically engaging with other athletes. On the field sport still scores higher in terms of viewers and probably always should, but looking through the lens of ‘sport as a business’ and particularly the recreation industry, the days of keeping esports in a basement or in a dark room, are perhaps over. It’s time to take esports more seriously as a revenue generating stream and bring it into the light.