Esports has been one of the success stories of the last few years. Organized competitive gaming can trace its roots back to the early 1970s, of course, with local competitions to find the champion of the arcade. But the scope of the tournaments has changed a lot since then.
It seems as if there is another high-profile esports competition launched every week, with all the big sports betting sites getting involved as well. But can this level of success and media attention continue?
We all know that gaming is here to stay. It may have attracted a whole new demographic recently, but people wanting to play video games will never end. But what does the future hold for esports? Can it crossover even more into the mainstream? Or will it go back to being more of a niche, underground community if the money starts to run out?
Esports had already become high profile in the gaming world before 2020. But it was the COVID pandemic of that year that really tipped it over into the mainstream. While everyone was forced to stay at home, gaming became a lifeline for millions around the world. And many discovered esports for the first time.
With no possibility of traditional sports being played in most countries, broadcasters and betting companies looked elsewhere to keep their own businesses going – and esports filled the void perfectly. With more money and more profile, esports became a bigger success. But where does it go from here?
The Rise of AI and VR
Virtual reality (VR) is now changing the way we enjoy all gaming – including esports. VR headsets make for a much more immersive experience and are also beneficial for fans to experience tournaments in a different way. Being able to be inside the game is a revolutionary concept for gaming in general.
It seems as though artificial intelligence (AI) is the panic phase of the moment. Mainstream media scare stories predict that AI will be the end of humanity. But esports has been able to embrace it. Machine learning and AI opponents can improve the level of the play.
Inclusivity and Diversity
Another area where esports seems to have something of an advantage is in who actually gets to play. Whereas traditional sports have always worked on a physical hierarchy, esports is able to broaden its horizon and look for other attributes, allowing for a more diverse pool.
Technological developments have also helped the cause. More people with disabilities are able to play and compete now – and esports has an enviable record of including more women and non-binary participants. These levels of inclusivity and diversity should be able to rise even further in the future.
Big Data and Analytics
We touched on this factor when we were talking about AI helping gamers improve their skills. By using the vast amounts of data now available – and using AI to speed up the process of analyzing it – gamers can work on new strategies and plan better for future tournaments.
But there is data that can be used by the esports organizations as well. By analyzing the information from past events, those running esports can target their audience in a better way and predict behavior. If this is done successfully, it will make esports an even more attractive proposition for outside investment.
There are factors that have not seemed to be as immediately successful, however. It was seen as an achievement when esports was admitted as an exhibition sport at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The launch of the Olympics Esports Series also seemed to be a step in the direction of further inclusion into the sports world.
First of all, there is the question of whether esports needs to do this – to get this validation. Should it be happy with the continuing success in its own world and concentrate on that? The actual esports included in the Olympics are a strange choice too. There are none of the recognized and hugely successful games and it might seem as though the Olympics are just cashing in on the success of esports.
Speaking of cash. One of the elements of esports that probably needs to change in the future is how it makes money. Unlike more traditional sports, esports may find it difficult to make money from huge broadcasting deals. This is because gamers are used to being able to watch streams for free.
Esports has historically made its money from sponsorship of events and tournaments. But there is a danger that the organizations stumping up that money will see something more profitable come along if esports stops being so lucrative. Monetization of gamers seems to be the answer – but how that is done will be a challenge over the next few years.
Might we have already reached the peak of what esports can achieve? There is no doubt that gamers and esports consumers tend to be on the younger side, as opposed to traditional sports. The question in the mind of companies supplying the investment will be whether that generation will grow up with esports or move on to something else when they get older.
It doesn’t seem as though we have reached any point of esports decline yet – and it is still a multi-billion dollar industry attracting record levels of investment. But, as with any success, it will need to adapt. Esports is not the fad that some critics thought it was around the time of the COVID-19 boost. But if it wants to grow yet further and stay relevant, it will need to continue to embrace technological advances and carve out its own space in the mainstream.