I've always thought of myself as being fairly open minded when it comes to business. I love innovation, new business and emerging industries and most of all, the new entrepreneurs it propagates. So I remember quite clearly the conversation I had recently with a professional YouTube vlogger. Hearing her start-up story was one of the most bizarre experiences I've had since becoming a business advisor. That said… it made sense. People like reading, listening and watching people. If that extends to watching people on YouTube discussing their latest 'haul' of beauty products then I get that. However, even this barely prepared me for the world's latest emerging industry calling itself 'E-sports'.
At this point you're probably (like me) thinking that e-sports actually refers to sports games like Fifa or ProGolf. Well it doesn't. Esports, put simply, means electronic sports i.e computer games – any computer game. Wizards, warlocks, Orcs you name it, they're all in there, along with their less physically able e-athletes (aka 'pro-gamers' as they like to be known).
Albeit e-sports is not actually a 'sport' in the traditional sense (and there are those from athletic organisations who would die on their shields to prevent such blasphemy), it does have all the defining characteristics of the sports industry.
Video game analytics firm Newzoo.com, reported that in 2014 there were 89 million e-sports enthusiasts worldwide, generating $194million in revenue. It's important to understand that we aren't talking about game sales, rather it consists of traditional sports revenues such as tickets, licences, sponsorship and merchandising. OK - so what's $194 million in comparison to other sports? That was 2014. Latest figures by newzoo.com suggest that in 2017 this number will almost treble. If you think that sounds crazy take a look at these viewing statistics.
2015 Viewing Statistics:
FA Cup final - 9million
Wimbledon Men's final - 13.1 million
League of Legends' final (e-sport) - 35 million total over the event, 14million at peak times.
Where did it all start?
Well as far as I can tell it involved people like my brother playing video games on the internet. Then someone realised there were actually a lot of people like my brother squirrelled away playing computer games in their bedrooms and started extracting them from their shells and collecting them together. They created online geeky places where they could hang out together then … big step… persuaded them out into the real world to go to major sporting venues where they could do the same thing but could share beer and talk geekspeak to the person next to them – probably through headsets. Add in a good helping of superfast broadband, billion dollar games companies and innovative thinkers (for argument we will call these super-geeks) and next thing you know you have festivals, tournaments, dictators and a sports industry that demands greater viewing numbers than the UK premiership.
Here in lies the beauty of e-sports; an entire industry made from fanatics, industry leaders and people who genuinely care about what they are building. It would also seem that the goal for every super geek is simply to go bigger. Bigger festivals, bigger tournaments, bigger coverage - everything is all about being BIG and even more outlandish than your competitors. Major music acts, 50ft screens, fireworks, cosplay arenas and even glow in the dark gaming raves are just some of the treats on offer. With so much scope for innovation on a relatively blank canvas there are literally endless opportunities for new businesses.
Some savvy super-geeks have been fleecing their fellow comrades for decades. Take the humble comic bookman or the likes of thinkgeek.com, a decadent emporium of all things geeky. In the past unless you were one of these or spoke Klingon, it's unlikely that you would ever carry enough street cred to make it in this industry. E-sports, on the other hand, has opened a whole new door.
This is an emerging industry whose closest neighbour (conventional sports) has perfected a blueprint for successful business models, ready to be teleported over. Wrap that up in some Ewok wrapping paper and who knows what galaxy that might take you to!
So in the words of Han Solo "Live long and prosper"… Oh crap - was that Star Trek ? Maybe it's not for me after all : (
Blog post by Dewi Gray, Business Start-up Manager