Speaking with ESPN’s own Jacob Wolf, a staff writer on esports, we discuss esports in detail, and where its development is taking it as a fully-formed sport.
‘We’re seeing the beginning of the future of esports right now,’ Wolf tells me from across the Atlantic Ocean, in America, where polls suggest that over 20% of its millennials aged between 18 to 25 actually prefer esports over traditional sports, whom watch it regularly despite esports coming in last amongst popularity polls for sports favouritism.
‘In 2017, we’ve had 20 different ownerships groups pay from $10 to $20 million each to invest in League of Legends and Overwatch. These people come from sports – like the Kraft family of the New England Patriots and the Kroenke family of Arsenal and the Rams – as well as those who have history in technology.’
It seems that esports players are being noticed by their traditional sports super-star counterparts, and investments have been rife. Maybe it their eye for entrepreneurial profit. Maybe it’s a growing appreciation of video-games and the skills that certain players brandish that remind them of their own character.
‘I’ve heard this from former athletes like Shaquille O’Neal,’ ESPN’s Jacob Wolf elaborates, ‘“The competitive spirit is alive in esports just like it is sports” … its similar enough that I think it allows people to compete at all ages, regardless of skill level.’
In 2016, Shaquille O’Neal purchased stakes in a $15 million funding deal for NRG esports organisation, along with surprise investor Jennifer Lopez among other American big names – proving the exciting mainstream appeal of esports is large and flourishing. Reports suggest that Shaq O’Neal loves Overwatch so much that he spear-headed NRG to acquire top gamers Team Mixup for their organisation.
What’s exciting about the esports audience is the difficult demographic that it reaches: predominately notorious 18 to 35-year-old males, infamous among marketing circles for their difficulty reach because of living independence and their time spent at computers. Now, investors are garnering public attention that is turning esports from a gaming niche into a respected sport.
This is happening globally. Heads are being turned and investors are smelling the bacon. Esports is heading for the 2022 Asian games; Manchester city employs professional gamers. French football club Paris St-Germain has their own esports team. One of the biggest investments in esports came from Russia’s richest man, Alisher Usmanov. Investing $100 million in Virtus.pro, the company’s co-owner hoped the money would increase the popularity of esports in Russia.
Professional basketballer-turned-actor Rick Fox purchased Gravity Gaming’s League of Legends Champion Series for roughly $1 million in 2015, quickly expanding the organisation beyond League of Legends to include Smash Bros, Call of Duty, and Street Fighter teams. Fox has been an avid fan of esports for years, and the Canadian frequents the esports scenes frequently as support.
Electro-maestro DJ Steve Aoki (Authors note: I felt obliged to put DJ as his title, as one would put DR. for a doctor) is one of the first musicians to make a deal within esports. An open lover of all things gaming, DJ Aoki acquired Las Vegas-based Team Rogue, a champion Overwatch team, in 2016.
Even Hollywood’s own Aston Kutcher has a foot in the industry. As one of the first A-list actors to become involved with esports, Kutcher has stakes in Unikrn, an esports gambling platform that gives its audience the chance to bet on matches in real time.
‘As I mentioned above,’ Wolf says, ‘that’s just the end of 2016 and 2017 alone. Not to mention 2014 and 2015, where we saw seeds planted for leagues in Counter-Strike, new tournament systems in Dota and several new esports games, like Rocket League, be conceived.’
Thus, it is evident that as the future of esports continues to grow, as will its players and potential audience.
‘Esports is ever-evolving. That’s the biggest difference between esports and sports. The game of soccer, football or basketball doesn’t change every few months. A League of Legends patch does. It’s what keeps the top games fresh and while the games change, as does the industry,’ says Wolf.
Although still beneath the mainstream surface of popular sporting culture, esports has already stretched from Hollywood to Russia, from baseball players to basketballers, in terms of those interested and how they have invested. And yet… it is still at the bottom of the list for statistical global viewership. However, that same survey found, that, for males between 18 to 25 in the United States, it was the second most preferred media entertainment, behind films.
Esports gaming just needs the reach.
Finalising the interview, Jacob Wolf notes, ‘I reckon we’ll see movement towards some of the large enterprise moves in traditional sport. I fully expect to see broadcasting rights deals sold, with League of Legends already having one with BAMTech, as well as collective bargaining agreements, regionality, etc.’
Thank-you to Mr. Wolf for taking the time for the interview. Novatech are excited to announce a recent partnership with Kingsnake Esports, to bring you their very first esports tournament. Find out more about it here:
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18 Sep 2020
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