Can e-Sports Get Bigger Than Soccer?

By asking the question in this way, we’re already implying that e-Sports has a bit of growing to do if it’s going to approach the worldwide popularity of soccer (or football, to most of the world).  Fair enough, and let’s give soccer its due respect.  It is after all the world’s most beloved spectator sport, with rabid and colorful fan bases who pack stadiums to watch their teams duel it out on the field.  To ask the question almost seems like a set up for e-Sports.  I mean, if football and baseball (or cricket or tennis) have to play second fiddle to soccer, what hope does e-Sports have—which consists of virtualized competition with video gaming systems rather than more traditional sporting events—to threaten soccer’s lofty perch?

Quite a lot, actually.  As a matter of fact, no matter what metrics or measurements we decide to apply, we find that e-Sports really does measure up quite well against soccer and the other top-tier sports.  And it’s only getting more widespread, more popular, and more media attention.  It’s very conceivable that ten years from now, we’ll be talking about world championships in video gaming in much the same way as we talk about the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the World Series, and Wimbledon:  as must-see events.

So what metrics make sense to measure the growing impact and importance of e-Sports compared to other types of spectator sports?  We don’t have to put on our data analytics cape to start compiling a sensible list.  Obviously, audiences and venues count.  Assessing how many people actually come out to watch sporting events and the size and locations of the competition venues give us a good idea of the base popularity of any spectator sport.  Or does it?  If we simply go with live audiences, we would actually be neglecting an equally important audience segment, the ones who watch competitions remotely via some sort of broadcast (cable, Internet stream, or whatever broadcast media is applicable).  So all in all, the larger the live and remote audiences, and the larger the venues in major metropolitan areas, the bigger the popularity of the spectator sport.  And of course, the amount of broadcast visibility available to remote audiences factors in, too.

We wouldn’t want to stop there, though.  We can throw out a few more metrics that help us measure e-Sports as a growing spectator sport.  If we look at some of the trappings around other sports, we can cobble together a broader view of the popularity of sports in general.  Things like the caliber of competitors, their star power, and the organized leagues in which they compete.  Things like broadcast coverage with dedicated commentary-style programming (think ESPN who just announced their aim to broadcast the Overwatch league), advertising (both broadcast and Internet-based), and overall media coverage (such as articles on news sites) contribute to the measuring stick.  And that leads us to more peripheral but no less important metrics such as topical trending on social media, which helps us gauge its overall social relevance.  Viewing e-Sports against this backdrop gives us a more realistic view of where its popularity is—and where it’s headed.

With each of these metrics, e-Sports really does measure up and prove its growing influence in the world of competitive spectator sports.  While one of the newest forms of organized competition, e-Sports has grown up in a hurry.  Professional gamers, with worldwide name recognition and corporate sponsorships, compete in leagues with dedicated fan bases.  These fans pack arenas—real arenas such as the Staples Center, not the local community recreation center—in places such as LA and Las Vegas and Washington DC.  Championship tournaments are hot tickets, and these will continue to consolidate and grow in prestige moving forward.  And all this tournament activity is streamed live to remote audiences around the globe.

An interesting thing about the broadcast coverage of e-Sports is that it’s starting to be treated like other top-tier sports, with shows revolving around commentators and broadcast analysts dissecting every part of the competition at hand.  Not only do audiences want to watch gaming competition, they also want to understand it from a scientific and also an artistic perspective, so commentators and analysts feed this hunger for more of the context around the competition.  Of course, when it all comes down to it, e-Sports, like other popular spectator sports, is big business, with high-stakes advertising supported by a powerful industry.  The video game industry is certainly that.OpenDrives_eSports

As a final observation, perhaps we simply measure the popularity and relevance of a sport based on its relevance to the lives most of us live and understand and try to excel in.  The sports we care about are the sports with which we most closely identify.  We live in a hyper-high-tech age, more commonly described as digital.  Most of us live and work surrounded by digital technology, and we think about it and use it and crave it more and more with each subsequent generation of smartphones.  Perhaps because we value digital technology so much, e-Sports reflects our current values more than traditional sports do.  Sure, in a pre-technology society where labor and physicality were still valuable and highly desirable commodities, football reflected society’s values perfectly.  Today, we’d wager that e-Sports strikes a chord with more people, and this relevance will only grow stronger.  It’s all about intelligent, digitally savvy competitors outwitting and outplaying each other in a virtual playing field.  Isn’t that how most of us see ourselves as we nestle into our jobs each morning, laptop and smartphone and tablets all at hand?

At OpenDrives, we obsess a lot about technology, too.  We’ve dedicated our work lives and our careers to bringing to market the most sophisticated storage solutions to solve thorny problems in data-intensive industries such as media and entertainment, advertising, and of course now e-Sports.  From bolstering the efforts of the video game production companies, their advertising efforts, and the various activities around broadcasting e-Sports footage and shows, we see how our passion can help support the passions of millions of fans and players and devotees of video gaming and e-Sports competition.  We do it for love of the sport—because they all love the sport.  And because we all just love technology and a little bit of competition.

Read our eSports brief and let us know if you would like to see a demo!

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