To answer the question in the title: the esports industry is BIG.
But how big exactly? That question we answer in full detail in this article.
Let’s dive right in.
The size of the esports industry
According to Statista, the value of the esports industry was in the $950 million range from 2019 to 2020.
But in 2021 it surpassed $1 billion for the first time ever. The value refers to the global revenue the industry creates. Currently, China is the market leader by size followed by the US. Western Europe holds 3rd place in 2021.
All regions combined account for approximately 80% of the total $1.08 billion.
The market is expected to continue growing at a fast, double-digit pace. This means, by the time of 2024 analysts believe the market will be at the $1.6 billion range.
Another survey by Statista shows the majority of esports revenue comes from sponsorships. In fact, more than 60% or $640 million came from the segment. Read more about who the biggest sponsors are in our article. The second biggest segment of esports revenue generators is media rights.
Revenue from esports betting is not considered in the revenue calculations. There are wild estimates of the global size of the esports betting industry. According to a study by Prodege, the size was $7 billion in 2019 and doubled to $14 billion in 2021.
Esports streaming contributed only $25 million to the global revenue pool.
The Esports industry is generally measured by its financial value. But there are other valuable metrics to size the whole esports ecosystem.
Newzoo published a very interesting study of esports key figures. Asia-Pacific has the most gamers with 1.61 billion users having played a videogame in a calendar year.
Middle East & Africa was actually the second largest region in active players, followed by Europe. Middle East & Africa has also seen the largest growth year over year.
In total, the global figure of active players was 3 billion.
That includes anyone who played any game on a PC, console, or mobile.
Another key figure to measure esports industry size is viewership. The number of viewers has been growing steadily year after year.
In 2021 alone, 465 million people watched esports globally, the same study tells. In 2019 that figure was just short 400 million. Likely no other sport sees the same growth numbers in any area. The fact is, esports have huge potential to grow their spectators.
From the 3 billion people who played a videogame, converting a mere 1% would bring 30 million more viewers. Growth estimates back this up, as the 2024 estimates say 577 million unique viewers.
The history of esports
The origins of a nowadays billion-dollar industry took place in 1972. At least that is the consensus among many.
The game was Spacewar and the competition Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics.
The event, organized by Standford University, awarded the winner with a grand prize.
At the time it was a one-year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. Cash prizes were unheard of at the time.
Fast-forward to 1985 when Nintendo released the 8-bit console. The era of arcade games was suddenly over. In 1990 Nintendo organized the first Nintendo World Championships. Prizes had already evolved to the $10 000 zones.
In 1992 Wolfenstein 3D came and the golden era of FPS esports began. One year after in 1993, Doom came into the circles with a series that continued until today. IDDQD or IDKFA were already regular expressions in the slang. The real game-changer for FPS games was Counter-Strike.
Originally, it was a modification of Half-life but later became the crown jewel. Read a more detailed history of FPS esports in our article.
MOBA esports games were somewhat late bloomers to the esports ecosystem. Since the beginning, the whole subgenre has circled around two major releases: League of Legends (2009) and DOTA2 (2013). Read a more detailed history of MOBA esports for insights on some less popular games.
What are the popular esports games?
A question that has no simple answer. If looking at monthly active players there are only two major candidates.
The active player count does not tell the whole story of popularity though. Considering the total prize money awarded the title goes to DOTA 2. So far over $270 million has been given away in prize money from over 1 500 tournaments. CS:GO and Fortnite are reasonable runners-up. Both boast over $100 million given away in tournaments.
Another measure of popularity is viewer count. League of Legends is the most-watched game in hours – by a mile. Considering it also has the most active monthly users, it is easy to give it the title of the most popular esports game. According to open sources, 208 million hours of League of Legends was watched in just October 2021. The same figure for DOTA 2 was just short of 100 million.
The best esports teams
What makes esports all more interesting is the relationship fans can build with teams. We like to feel united and share success. Supporting and following your favorite team enables you to immerse yourself in the sport.
In esports, money talks when measuring success. The higher the prize, the more prestigious the tournament is. And naturally, the harder it becomes to win it. It’s simple and makes it extremely easy to compare teams’ performances.
All-time best earners are Team Liquid with almost $40 million in prize money at the time of writing. They are true veterans in the esports space, having started in 2000. Team Liquid competes in 14 of the top games including DOTA 2, CS:GO and Fortnite.
Only one team comes even close and that’s OG. They have won over $35 million in prizemoney and several major titles. The team’s slogan: Against All Odds tells their story. Going from zero to having millions of fans around the globe does not come for free. OG later signed multi-million sponsorship deals with BMW and Red Bull.
Lastly, Fnatic is a guaranteed fan favorite, considering their thesis to keep 1,5% ownership of the club to fans. Their all-time earnings as a team are on the better side of $17 million. Crypto.com also believes in them, considering the $15 million deal they signed for 5 years.
More about the best esports teams and players in our other post.
Women in esports
Every gamer’s dream is to have a pro-gamer girlfriend. But why are there so few women in esports professional circles?
One main reason is that the industry is so male-concentrated.
Making it to the top as a girl means dealing with sexism and quite often misogynism. Many female players have heard the phrase: “She’s quite good for a girl”. To see more girl pros, the industry needs to move towards a more equal playing field.
Forbes has made a very extensive piece on the subject, worth every minute of the read. Making an industry so male-dominated change for the better will take time. Although right now it looks that we are on the correct path.
To find out who are the best women out there, we followed the tournament earnings:
Canadian Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn is the highest-paid female esports player of all time.
Her game is Starcraft II and she has scooped home over $400 000 from tournaments.
Second, comes a Chinese player with the alias “Liooon”, Hearthstone as her forte.
Her bank account has increased by over $240 000 during her career.
Third, in the money-list is an American Katherine “Mystik” Gunn.
She won the second season WCG Ultimate Gamer and is its highest-paid player of all time. Her career boasts more than $120 000 in prizemoney.
Nowadays, she is a full-time streamer.
Even if women in esports are not topping the earnings lists, there are other ways to monetize gaming. Many have turned to streaming and built quite impressive follower bases.
According to Sportskeeda, Pokimane is currently the most influential female streamer. She has a massive follower-base of 8.25 million in Twitch and another 6.69 million on YouTube.
Second in the rankings is Valkyrae and her 3.55 million Youtube followers. Besides, she is actively involved with the influencer/singer Bella Poarch. With follower bases of these magnitudes, we are definitely talking about serious streaming incomes.
The esports ecosystem
How does the $1 billion industry actually operate? Like any other sport, it requires several coexisting parts.
Without fans, there are no streamers or streaming platforms. Without viewers on the platforms, it would be pointless to organize leagues or events. Without leagues or events, there would be no interest to play popular games as a pro.
And finally, without players, there would be no teams or games. And vice versa. All parts play an important role and enable esports industry monetization.
Where does the money come from and who gets it? The biggest enablers are the sponsors & advertisers.
Finally, investors and VCs bring in external money with the hopes of making a positive ROI. Investing in an esports organization might be a good diversification for your portfolio. Considering that the average value of an esports organization was $240 million in 2020, according to a Forbes article.