eSports is growing. In fact, it might be the fastest growing sport in the world. It has some significant differences from other major sports, though. For one, it doesn’t have to be played live and in-person. That means people can play video games competitively any time. Right now, as you’re reading, there are hundreds of high-level eSports games going on. Gamers across the world are doing battle and trying to get noticed by tournaments and teams—and millions of people are watching them.
In 2014, 205 million people watched or played eSports. That year, there were an estimated 89 million dedicated fans of eSports. Most viewers typically watch games on live streaming services. Twitch is the most popular viewing platform. In June 2017, 1.026 million people watched a Twitch livestream of the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major. Twitch has more than 55 million users—so it’s no surprise that Amazon bought it for nearly 1 billion dollars.
Big matches like the Major attract large audiences. But people also watch eSports every day and follow their favorite players. Tom Cassell, also known as Syndicate, is arguably the most popular Twitch streamer. In 2014, he was the first Twitch streamer to attract one million followers. As of September 2017, he had more than 2.4 million.
The most viewed Twitch account belongs to Riot Games, the makers of League of Legends. They’ve hosted more than 900 million viewing sessions as of September 2017.
Popular eSports Games
There are two ways to calculate the most popular eSports games. One way is to measure how much viewers watch organized competitions. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the clear leader there. During July 2016, viewers spent 31.8 million total hours watching official Counter-Strike eSports events.
Another measure is how much time viewers spend watching videos of gameplay. That number includes streamers who don’t necessarily compete in organized tournaments. Those streamers might produce how-to videos or just play the game with style, and draw a big audience on their own.
League of Legends has the biggest audience of combined competitive and general eSports viewers. In July 2016, viewers spent 77.9 million hours watching League of Legends streams.
Other popular eSports games include Dota 2, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Street Fighter V, StarCraft II, Super Smash Bros., Overwatch, and Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
The Business Side of eSports
Unsurprisingly, all this activity has created a booming industry. In 2016, the world’s eSports market was valued at 493 million dollars. It’s expected to grow dramatically. By 2020, eSports market revenue could reach 1.49 billion dollars.
Advertisers have taken notice. According to Ad Age, Arby’s, Audi, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Gillette and Budweiser have all advertised during prominent eSports competitions. Sponsorship revenue was expected to reach $266 million in 2017. That number could more than double by 2020: that year, researchers estimate that eSports leagues will earn $655 million in sponsorships and $224 million in ad spending.
Plenty of the money from that giant market goes to players. In 2014, Dota 2’s champions—a team of five players, won $5.03 million dollars for winning the tournament.