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With the world in lockdown, there’s a void to fill. Esports, including digitized real sport, is already plugging some of the gap. And it could be that the crisis proves the catalyst for digital sport – backed by TV and celebrity endorsement – taking esports as a whole to the next level.
In the last few months, daily viewings of “multiplayer online battle arenas” (MOBAs) and “shooters” esports on the Twitch esports platform have soared, rising from 1.4 million daily in February 2020 to 2.5 million in April (see figure 1).
But sports games, too, have surged in popularity. Motor racing has led the way, with the eNASCAR iracing in the US recording 1.4 million viewers in late March. And in the UK, nearly 5 million people tuned in to a digitally simulated Grand National, Europe’s most valuable jump race, at the beginning of April.
Source: Twitchtracker.com. Data as of 24 April 2020.
Even before the pandemic, the world of physical sport was gradually spreading into digital. Many football clubs have launched esports teams, for example, and the Formula 1 Esports Series has been attracting tens of thousands of gamers each year since starting in 2017. But the crisis has given this trend a huge push, attracting people for whom video gaming is an alien concept to participate or watch for the first time.
So, will the crisis make digital sport a new driver for growth in esports in general? We think so. Sports games currently only make up a relatively small part of an industry historically dominated by MOBAs or shooters, such as League of Legends or Call of Duty respectively. So there is huge room for growth (see figure 2).
Source: VanEck analysis, based on #YouTube subscribers. Note that YouTube is skewed towards European and North American viewers. In Asia the following platforms are more popular: Huya, Douyu and Bilibili. Sports games also includes racing (2% point). Data as of 23 April 2020.
Below we explain why we think traditional sport is likely to prove a lasting driver of growth in the virtual world of esports:
Source: VanEck analysis based on NewZoo data, Statista. Sports data for 2017. Esports data for 2019.
It is also interesting to note that esports is increasingly played by real sports professionals. In April 2020, the UK Premier League launched its ePremier League, starring real football players and for broadcast live on terrestrial TV (beyond YouTube and Twitch). As sports people typically retire young, between the ages of 30 and 40, esports could offer a second career (see figure 5).
So, one of the legacies of the pandemic may well prove to be a shift of real sports into the digital world of esports. All the factors for an acceleration of the trend are there. Who knows how big the shift might be. But imagine how big the world of esports could be if it even approached the popularity of traditional sports…
To learn more about ESPO and the high growth potential of the global video gaming and esports industry, visit vaneck.com/ucits/esports/.
The author would like to thank John Patrick Lee for his ideas and insights.
1Currently VanEck does not possess data or research indicating that this will be the case.
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