2017 has been another outstanding year for the eSports industry. As of August 2017, Statista revealed that the number of gamers playing eSports games was in the tens of millions. League of Legends remains way out in front, with 100 million people playing worldwide, followed by Call of Duty (28.1 million), Hearthstone (23.9 million) and DOTA 2 (12.6 million). Aside from the increasing volumes of players, the industry as a whole is generating huge revenue. According to Statista’s source estimates, the global eSports industry will be worth $696.3m by the end of this year and will peak at $1.48bn by the turn of the next decade – expanding by more than 100% in the next three years.
This year has cemented eSports as a genuine form of entertainment and a credible form of professional sport. Although TBS has broadcasted the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Eleague for the last two years now, its broadcasting has expanded this year to cover leagues involving Rocket League, Street Fighter and Injustice 2. Furthermore, the prize money for these events has sky-rocketed into six-figures on average, with the ground-breaking worldwide tournament prize pot going to Dota 2 players who were fighting for a share of $23m earlier this year. With eSports market revenues expected to grow by almost a quarter of a billion dollars in 2018, it promises to be a hugely intriguing 12 months for the industry. Let’s take a look at some of the major developments that eSports fanatics are likely to experience in the coming months.
Is 2018 the time for Japan to fully embrace eSports?
One of the biggest challenges remaining for the eSports industry is to crack Japan. Japan’s Asian neighbours in China and South Korea have already embraced the industry but Japan’s stringent gambling laws have so far prohibited eSports tournaments located in Japan from handing our prize fees to entrants. Nevertheless, it is reported that the Japanese eSports Association (JeSPA) has discovered a beneficial loophole to enable eSports tournaments to flourish in the Land of the Rising Sun.
An archaic piece of legislation, designed to shut down virtual poker games involving the Yakuza more than 30 years ago, has also thwarted video game action from being able to offer tournament prize fees generated by ticket sales from eSports fanatics. This has turned off many thousands of eSports professionals who have instead ventured to nearby South Korea and China to participate in big-money events. Even Japanese eSports pros have had to take the frustrating decision to leave their country to develop their career abroad. However, that could all be set to change if the JeSPA has its way. They are working hard to try and bypass this outdated piece of legislation by securing official licences for Japanese pro gamers.
There’s no doubt that the appetite for eSports is palpable in Japan. Even in the 1980s, Japanese television was awash with broadcasts of video game events and with two of the biggest video game giants born here in the shape of Sony and Nintendo, it seems bizarre that the country has had to sit patiently and wait for its moment in the eSports limelight. In China, they were able to sell out their 90,000-capacity Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing when it played host to the League of Legends World Championship finals. There is no doubt that Japan’s love of video gaming is just as fanatical as China and we look forward to the prospect of the nation staging equally big events in the next 12 months.
Intel bringing eSports to Korea ahead of Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018
The 2018 Winter Olympics is making its way to South Korea between 9th-25th February; the first time ever that the nation will play host to the Winter Games after Seoul was selected as the home of the Summer Games in 1988. There have only been two other Asian cities to host the Winter Olympics, both of which were in Japan in Sapporo (1972) and Nagano (1998). In order to tap into the excitement of PyeongChang 2018, Intel announced plans to bring two eSports experiences to PyeongChang: the Intel Extreme Masters PyeongChang eSports tournament and an exhibition of the officially licensed game of the Olympic Winter Games 2018, ‘Steep Road to the Olympics’.
The Extreme Masters tournament will be available to all entrants playing at any level. Qualifiers were held online for global competitors last month, with a live qualifier competition taking place in Beijing this month between the initial global qualifiers. The winner of that heat will go on to compete against the rest of the entrants in PyeongChang in the build-up to the Winter Games 2018.
Intel is one of many companies to try and push the creative boundaries of eSports since the turn of the Millennium and it’s a credit to the eSports industry that there will be a tournament hosted in the Winter Games city as a precursor to the main event. Intel is also working in partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reimagine the potential of future Olympic Games, heightening viewer interaction with cutting-edge eSports technology.
FIFA 2018 included in Gfinity Elite Series Season 3
The UK is home to a number of popular eSports tournaments, none more so than the Gfinity Elite Series. Gamers compete over a number of different console titles for the respective teams and earn points for each victory throughout the series. For the first time in 2018, FIFA 2018 will be included in the Gfinity Elite Series, which last year included Street Fighter V, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rocket League. The Gfinity Elite Series’ FIFA 2018 competition will be closely aligned to the FIFA 2018 eWorld Cup, a tournament designed to find the world’s best FIFA 2018 gamer in August 2018. The leading players within the Gfinity Elite Series will secure qualification for the FIFA 18 Global Series Playoffs and a potential place at the FIFA 18 eWorld Cup Grand Final in August.
The third season of the Gfinity Elite Series will begin in earnest from March, once teams have drafted their eSports pros. The Gfinity Challenger Series is open to all eSports gamers, with the top 40 players in this initial stage qualifying for selection in the Elite Series. The draft for Season 3 of the Elite Series kicks off on 23rd February. It’s a chance of a lifetime for many gamers, with those who qualify given the opportunity to play for a professional eSports franchise.
Hearthstone Championship Tour to be streamlined in 2018
In 2017, Hearthstone was the third most popular eSports game on the planet. In recent years, it has been possible for fanatics to place bets on their favoured eSports stars and at sportsbet.io they keep fans regularly updated with all of the latest news and views of all eSports championships for Hearthstone and many other leading eSports game titles. In a bid to create more earning potential for eSports professionals, the Hearthstone Masters System is set to make sweeping amendments to the 2018 Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT). The changes will have an onus on improving the route of qualification for seasoned professionals as well as budding amateurs. The key change to the 2018 tour is the introduction of ‘Masters Tiers’, with the 3-Star Master tier awarded to those who reach the 200-point target which is combined with the last three seasons. Top-tier players will get an immediate invite to seasonal playoffs and $2,500 appearance fees for playing in up to three events throughout the season.
Blizzard has confirmed it will also be amending the route of qualification for Hearthstone Championship Tour Playoff events. Players who achieve a single-season HCT points total of 45 at least will gain automatic qualification into the Playoffs. A new Hearthstone Challengers system has also been mooted, giving eight gamers the chance to qualify for Season Playoffs, but as yet the nature of these new qualifying tournaments has not been finalised. Blizzard has also promised to grow the number of tour stops for the HCT in 2018, with further cash rewards for the Hearthstone teams finishing in the top ten.
Greater synergy between real-life sports teams and eSports
In 2018, we’re almost certain to see a growing relationship between real-life sports teams and eSports professionals representing the sport. There is no better example than in Formula One. Last month, the inaugural Formula 1 eSports Series World Championship reached its climax in Abu Dhabi, with the three-race final staged at the Yas Marina circuit just hours before the real Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The eSports Series, which was formed in tandem by leading video game studio Codemasters, Gfinity and Formula One, saw more than 60,000 F1 eSports gamers battle it out to qualify for the Series, which was eventually trimmed down to just 20 of the best eSports drivers for the three-race final in UAE.
The final went down to the final race, with three drivers still in with a chance of securing that top spot on the podium. Ultimately, it was a bold move from 18-year-old Briton, Brendan Leigh on the penultimate lap of the race which saw him overtake Chilean, Fabrizio Denoso to claim the title and secure the privilege of being named as a non-driver character in the 2018 F1 video game and be named as the F1 eSports Champion Expert for the next 12 months.
The success of the first ever Formula 1 eSports Series has certainly not gone unnoticed in Formula One quarters. Earlier this year, McLaren executive director, Zak Brown admitted it was entirely possible that real-life Formula One race teams could employ their own F1 eSports racing teams to compete in a series at the same time as the real thing. Many of Formula One’s superstars are also getting involved in the eSports version of the sport too. Spanish veteran, Fernando Alonso partnered with tech giants Logitech in November to set up his very own eSports F1 racing team. Alonso is named as team principal of FA Racing G2 Logitech G team and he has already wasted no time in hiring Cem Bolukbasi, one of the finalists of the F1 eSports Series to be part of his team. “It’s a starting point. [eSports] is going to get bigger and bigger and it will grow up very quickly in the next couple of years,” said Alonso.
Earlier in 2017, some of Europe’s leading football clubs have invested heavily in eSports. Cash-rich French giants, Paris Saint-Germain and German outfit Schalke 04 have both employed League of Legends teams to represent their badge. In fact, PSG’s League of Legends team secured a place in the European Challenger Series playoffs. Meanwhile, FC Copenhagen has also employed its own team of Counter-Strike eSports professionals.
West Ham United became the inaugural UK football team to dabble in the world of eSports after signing up Sean ‘Dragonn’ Allen, runner-up of the FIFA Interactive World Cup. Allen now plays under the umbrella of the Hammers’ badge and qualified for the FIWC Regionals hosted in Madrid in February.
eSports: the potential to be one of the top five sports on the planet
By the turn of 2020, there is predicted to be 600 million viewers worldwide of eSports competitions, so it’s not hard to see why leading football clubs around Europe and beyond view eSports as a great platform to market their brand. eSports is a new marketing channel for football clubs to entice new fans of their brands who might not necessarily even like football. In terms of the gaming itself, Peter Warman, an analyst at Newzoo, commented earlier this year that eSports “has the potential to become one of the top five sports in the world”.
Just like in Formula One, the potential is there for a virtual Champions League-esque competition between clubs that have their own eSports teams. Warman believes that this is “more than a marketing stunt”.
“Football clubs see this opportunity as a strategic part of their franchise. Sports clubs are now dependent on revenues that come from areas outside of their league, so this is their marketing objective,” added Warman.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we could find ourselves sitting in our armchairs to watch live coverage of an eSports Champions League final in the coming years – now that would be an undeniable statement of intent for the eSports industry.