SuperData Research has a comprehensive new report with lots of facts and figures about e-sports. The tl;dr of it is that e-sports is growing, and doing quite well for itself and its participants, but, objectively, it’s still got a long ways to go before it matches other kinds of sports, at least in North America.
The headline is that e-sports is a $612 million worldwide product (2015 estimate), with over 134 million viewers worldwide. $143 million of that is accounted for in North America. $111.1 million of that pool comes from corporate sponsorship, with the remaining coming from prize contributions, merchandise, and ticket sales. All of this represents significant growth year over year, both in terms of viewers and money. Still, it’s not a money-maker for the developers; Riot takes a loss on e-sports, but sees them more as a marketing expense, meant to bring in new players and engage existing ones.
While some of that money trickles down to the players, only the top players earn a substantial living. Five players — all of them Asian — listed in the report top $1 million USD per year, but “most players earn a modest salary ranging from $12,000 to $40,000 a year.” The players themselves are overwhelmingly male: only two of the top 200 earners, and 13% overall, are female.
The top-viewed franchise in the U.S. isn’t a free-to-play MOBA, as some might expect, but instead competitive Call of Duty, which holds a 28% market share, as opposed to just 9% for the #2 game, League of Legends. The rest of the top 10 is shooters and sports games, with the exception of Starcraft. In all, FPSes account for 52% of viewers, with sports (18%) and MOBAs (16%) taking up most of the rest.
So when will we see e-sports be on par with Major League Baseball or the NFL in America? That’s still a long way off. $143 million may seem like a lot to you and me, but each of those leagues bring in about $10 billion per year >in total revenue
>in total revenue. Even small (for the U.S.) leagues like Major League Soccer bring in close to half a billion dollars. And keep in mind that that $143 million value is for all of e-sports: League of Legends, Dota 2, Starcraft, Call of Duty, etc., combined. For a truly “fair” comparison, we’d take that number and compare it to all sports leagues, and the result would be even more lopsided.
That said, e-sports do represent a market that’s growing very quickly and still has room to advance. As long as the initial investment was realistic, I can see how it would represent a fantastic growth opportunity for a sponsor or advertiser looking to target a young (over half of viewers are under 35), tech-savvy crowd that’s only getting bigger.