With a global audience of half a billion in 2019 and growth expected to reach 9% year-on-year until 2023, it is perhaps time we all paid more attention to esports and the opportunities this booming market presents to the hospitality industry, says our in-house tech fan Jordan Wood.
The number of major investments in the esports market doubled from 34 in 2017 to 68 in 2018, when a total of $4.5bn was sunk into the sector, according to data from Deloitte. But what exactly is esports and, quite frankly, why should hospitality operators care about it?
Esports, just like conventional sports, are competitive scenarios played out by individuals or teams, where points are tallied, goals are scored and emotions are tried and tested. However, the key differences lie in the fact that there isn’t a blade of grass or a running track in sight; instead, expect hi-tech armchairs, games consoles and lots of banter… lots and lots of banter.
You might be thinking that video games are for teenagers and nerds, locking themselves away in their bedrooms with the curtains drawn to keep out the sunlight (gah!) but, thanks to online services like Twitch and YouTube, an entire sub-culture has developed, focused on watching ‘experts’ play popular video games.
The movement has progressed rapidly, to a point where huge events are organized at landmark venues and broadcast live across the internet for the rest of the world to see. Just last weekend (8-9 February), a Call of Duty global esports league comprised of 12 nations, came to London’s Copper Box Arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – hallowed ground in British sports’ recent history. More than 111,000 people tuned in to watch the action online, which is 10,000 higher than when the event launched in January 2020.
Unsurprisingly, esports is most popular with Generation Z, making up 63% of the market according to data from Ukie, the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment. With plenty of evidence suggesting that a typical young person today is far less interested in spending their weekends in nightclubs with sticky floors and drinking enough alcohol to poison a small horse, it is important that their interests and lifestyles are reflected by the industry.
A large number of bars and concepts have popped up, such as Loading Gaming Bars and Fifapub, which are targeted at gamers that like to socialise by mixing their passion for gaming with having a drink. However, a large proportion of esports fans are under 18, which means they’re not yet of an age to go to the pub or a bar with their friends.
These concepts also don’t address esports fans’ passion for watching their favourite players compete, just as you’d typically cheer on your football or rugby team with friends at your local boozer. Esports fans will argue that if a venue shows conventional sport, why can’t they show what they want to watch? As these viewers get older, it’s certainly going to be interesting to see esports enter the mainstream and how operators might respond to the opportunity.
Anyone for Fifa?
 Business Insider, Dec 19: https://www.businessinsider.com/esports-ecosystem-market-report?r=US&IR=T
 Deloitte, The Rise of Esports Investment report, April 2019: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/finance/drfa-rise-of-esports-investments.pdf