The growth of eSports

Posted on Apr 5, 2021

Background and Motivation

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic started, countries initiated quarantine and lockdown campaigns, so many events where people gathered were put on hold. Those included sporting events, hence, the Tokyo Olympics were postponed for the year 2021.

In the absence of live sports, the media was quick to champion eSports as an alternative for sports fans and I started to notice that electronic sports were getting popular on my newsfeed. As a fan of both traditional sports and video games, I thought about investigating the topic a bit further to check its growth in both economic and general interest.


The audience I had in mind and believe would be interesting was for eSports enthusiasts themselves, sports fans, investing and marketing companies looking for new industries to invest and market. With that in mind, the goals and findings of this project were focused on if it is worth investing in eSports and how the pandemic has affected it.

Web Scraping

In this project, 3 websites were scrapped.

  • - contains information on all eSports tournaments, including the players' info, a tournament prize, game events, etc.
  • - was scrapped to retrieve information on the most popular gaming platform, called Steam.
  • - the website had information on the game industry in general, not just limited to eSports.

The current state of eSports

After some quick research on the eSports industry, there were some interesting initial findings:

  • Globally, the total eSports audience had a year-on-year growth of +11.7%.
  • Global eSports revenue surpassed $1.1 billion in 2020, which represented year-on-year growth of +15.7%.
  • In 2019, there were 885 major events, which together generated $56 million in ticket revenue.
Figure 1: Total earning by country in USD in eSports tournaments.

To supply the demand for 800+ events, about 90,000 professional players compete around the globe. And although the odds of being a professional eSports player are low, the number of people pursuing this career has significantly increased in the last 5 years. The highest concentration is in North America and Asia and some places in Europe, which can be explained by those regions having better access to electricity and Internet connectivity. Based on the top-ranking eSports players of 2020, the average age was 24 for male players and 27 for females.

Figure 2: Top 15 players who had earnings before 18 years of age.

Some are even as young as 16, demonstrating that progress is very possible at a young age. Players tend to retire very soon too. It is not common to find a professional player competing in their 30s. The graph shows players' earnings separated by 2 categories: earned before 18 and after 18 years old. Looking at this graph, it is advised for teams to invest in younger players because with experience, they will most probably have better chances of winning tournaments in the future.

Female players

It’s taken a while for women to invest in video games. As video games have grown and become more prevalent, more girls have gained access to them. Whatever the case, women now have a significant presence in gaming but there is still a lot of room for growth.

Figure 3: Most successful player of all time has earned alone more than the top 500 female players.

But how big is this sport? Is it worth the investment and marketing?

eSports is BIG

Esports has become a huge business over the past five years, with professional video gaming tournaments offering more prize money than some of the traditional sport’s biggest events. Next year’s DOTA2 prize pool is currently sitting at nearly $US35 million and increasing. Last year, an equal split of the $15 million first-place prizes gave each player about $3 million. For context, Tiger Woods 'only' pulled in $2 million at the 2019 Masters. Even the Wimbledon singles champs Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep took home $2.9 million each.

Figure 4: In 2019 alone, more than $215 million was awarded across more than 4,600 tournaments. That’s compared to just $13.8 million in 2012.

The prize pool has been on a constant evolution throughout the years. Each year more and more tournaments are being played and the prize pool has also increased.

Figure 5: Concentration of prize pools across the years.
Figure 6: Game prizes share by title and genre.

Sponsorship and advertising spend has steadily increased from 2017 to 2019, and is expected to reach $634.03 million by 2023.

Ok, and how big is the consumer base for eSports?

Gaming viewers and revenue

As of August 2019, researchers estimated that nearly 1 billion unique users watched Esports at some point, which is over 22% of the current internet population. The audience is already double the size of the global audience for Formula 1 and eight times bigger than the TV audience for the baseball World Series. The main source of eSports content comes from streaming websites like Twitch and Youtube owned by Amazon and Google respectively. The majority of these viewers are on the younger side; 62% of them are aged 16-34. And all of these factors point to gaming and eSports is what every traditional sports league want to become:
young, global, digital, and increasingly diverse.

Interest in eSports still isn’t evenly distributed though, with people in Asia much more likely to be fans.

40% of internet users in China already report watching gaming streams, however, it’s taking longer for the trend to catch on in the West. Less than 10% of internet users in North America and Europe watch eSports today, which may explain why marketing budgets continue to lag in those regions.

Figure 7: Percentage of internet users by country that watch eSports tournaments.

Active users

In April of 2020, the peak concurrent online users on the popular gaming platform Steam was almost 25 million and the spike happened around when the pandemic started. The pandemic proved that eSports and the game industry are better adapted to the increasingly digital world than traditional sports.

Figure 8: Graph that shows the concurrent online at popular gaming platform Steam.

Conclusions and takeaways

To conclude, the eSports industry has grown by epic proportions in recent years. Over the last five years, revenue has tripled from $325M to $1.1 billion and audience size has quadrupled. Because tournaments and events are hosted across a variety of time zones, the success of the eSports industry truly relies on digital platforms to remain accessible to fans. It’s also important to note that the heavy investments of digital titans like Amazon, Microsoft and Google further proves that eSports are here to stay. There are tons of opportunities which companies can seize to ride the wave of eSports' popularity.

For future work, it would be interesting to investigate the mobile branch of eSports, where it is seen as an opportunity to further broaden its reach because it is a platform that’s more accessible than PC and console. According to an industry report by Niko Partners, mobile eSports competitive games made $15.3 billion last year.
Lastly, the idea of combining AI technology in eSports is attractive and should be explored.

Useful links

Github repo:

Shiny app:

About Author

Lucas Kim

Born and raised in Brazil, Lucas graduated from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) with a degree in aerospace engineering. Before joining the Bootcamp, Lucas worked in Finance in Brazil.
View all posts by Lucas Kim >

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