With Viewership and Revenue Booming, Esports Set to Compete with Traditional Sports

by Syracuse Staff

When kids talk about Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and his gaming streams on Twitch, they speak of him as if he were LeBron James or Tom Brady. They analyze the 26-year-old’s every move in the battle royale game “Fortnite.” They quote his kill ratios and stats. They emulate his tactics and moves as they dream of becoming competitive gamers.

Technology consulting firm Activate estimates more than 250 million people watch esports, External link  sometimes known as electronic sports or professional gaming, and most of them also play. His viewers propelled Blevins to the cover of ESPN The Magazine, which branded him gaming’s first “crossover star.” External link  He averages more than 72,000 viewers during competitions, has access to more than 12 million followers, and nets about $300,000 a month in streaming revenue.

Blevins is one among many gaming superstars—and that elite group is about to get bigger. By 2020, Activate suggests that 70 million people will watch a single esports final, which is higher than the viewership for U.S. professional baseball, soccer, and hockey finals. By that time, consumers will watch 3 billion hours of esports, which accounts for 10 percent of all sports viewing.

Bar chart showing projected viewers in the United States for professional sports leagues in 2021, including esports

Activate projects that in the United States esports will have more viewers than every professional sports league but the NFL by 2021. They project that there will be 84 million viewers of esports, higher than the 79 million MLB viewers or the 63 million NBA viewers. This is still dwarfed by the 141 million NFL viewers. Go to a tabular version of esports viewers in the United States at the bottom of the page.
Though the popularity and pay of gamers like Blevins is rare and the industry is still new, “everyone has to take note of how fast it’s growing,” said Eunkyu Lee, External link  professor of marketing and associate dean for global initiatives at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. External link
Unlike football or cricket, esports is not rooted in any region or culture, so it has a more global appeal, Lee said. “In today’s world, being able to reach ... billions of eyeballs is very important for building the product’s commercial value.”

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