With the beginning of 2021 seeing much of the sports landscape move closer to a state of normalcy, the world of esports projects to have a banner year after an influx of new viewers joined while the pandemic dragged on. The gaming space seems to be hitting a critical mass and experts are predicting a ton of growth (as they always do), but one thing stands out across the various published trends reports from Q1: this is the year of the crossover.
With 2.8 billion gamers worldwide generating an estimated $189.3 Bn in revenue in 2021, and esports revenue expected to eclipse $1 Bn for the first time – thanks to an exploding array of partnership deals – it’s more evident than ever that the sport is no longer confined to its own world. There may be no greater example of this than the announcement in early March of the revival of G4. G4 is a gaming-focused TV network that shuttered in 2014, but major gaming sponsor Comcast Spectacor plans to revive it, not only on digital channels as one would expect, but also on linear TV and OTT, which goes to show that the audience for gaming is no longer just kids and teens.
That shift in audience has also changed the action in peripheral involvement in gaming – most notably, gambling. This space was already growing before COVID-19, as UK oddsmakers saw a 2,922% rise YOY in esports betting between March 2019 and 2020. The growth didn’t stop there, however, as The State of Esports Betting Report 2020 from EveryMatrix noted that total wagers would end as high as $15 billion by 2020’s close and that 10% of traditional sports bettors transitioned to being esports bettors during a three-week period during the early lockdowns. Player turnover in that window saw the average bets for traditional sports drop by a third, and nearly triple for esports, and while that change may not be permanently as drastic, it’s clear the crossover has been made for numerous bettors.
This splitting of attention for fans is also worth noting, as it has led to traditional sports teams trying to diversify their offerings to keep interest high. Nearly every NBA team has a NBA 2K League affiliate heading into the 2021 season, as opposed to only half when the League started four years ago. French soccer champion Paris Saint-Germain has not only loaded up active divisions in FIFA, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Brawl Stars in just four years, but it also opened up an online youth academy for top young gamers at the end of 2020 and plans to debut Studio Paris Saint-Germain in 2021 as a headquarters and training center for PSG Esports. And the stakes have never been higher – i.e. the 2021 Dota 2 World Championship has a prize pool of $40M, which is the same as the U.S. Open tennis for the singles tournament – makes the draw of seeing someone have their dreams come just as real and compelling as any traditional sport.
In past years, we’ve seen buy in from celebrities and deep pocketed investors into the gaming space, but 2021’s trends seem to key in on the sports world putting its considerable backing behind it. With the full force of traditional sports (fans, teams, and gamblers alike) now supporting the industry, expect this year to see traditional sports and esports crossover more than ever before.