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#4 eSports breaks into the mainstream

19 November 2019

How has eSports risen in popularity over the last decade, and what impact will the phenomenon have on future competition and the way we communicate? Tom Easterby shares his insights from his conversation with Fnatic.

As we launch our second season of the New Frontiers podcast series, in this first episode^, I spoke to Sam Mathews, co-founder and chairman of Fnatic. Fnatic is a professional eSports organisation that represents a movement towards competitive gaming. Fnatic has teams of players across a variety of games, and each team competes around the world in tournaments against other eSports teams.

What are my 3 takeaway messages from my conversation with Sam?

Tom Easterby

Tom Easterby
Head of Venture Capital Coverage at Barclays

eSports is becoming a $1bn industry

Since eSports took off in the early 2000s, it has seen highly accelerated growth, to the extent that the industry is predicated to reach over $1 billion in value by 20201, fuelled by a rise in consumer interest in eSports. Consumers often follow eSports through social media, and video streaming websites dedicated to gaming, meaning watching live streams of competitors is often simpler to access online than most traditional sports.

Within the industry, Fnatic has grown from a small team to over 60 gamers internationally who compete in 30 different games and had the highest number of prizes in 2018. Part of this growth has been facilitated by collaborations between the eSports industry and other industries: fashion, entertainment, technology.

You can watch Fnatic’s gamers on YouTube, while wearing their t-shirts and using their keyboard, for instance.

Partnerships with other industries and brands is driving brand awareness and revenue for businesses like Fnatic.

eSports is getting more physical

The stereotype of the average video gamer’s physique is perhaps not a universally positive one. But as technology is advancing, eSports is likely to become more and more physical.

Indeed, just looking at Sam’s own background, he was a prop for Harlequins before he founded Fnatic – he came to gaming as a result of his desire to compete and was drawn in by the fact he could get the buzz of competition whenever he wanted, instead of just once a week on a Saturday.

Over the last 5 years, VR (virtual reality) has been developed, and now is at a point where players can fully immerse themselves within the game, and this is continuing to be improved through the introduction of 360˚ treadmills which allow players to run within a VR environment.

For those who perhaps want to game on the go, but not necessarily on a treadmill, there has been a significant push recently for partnerships between eSports businesses and mobile phone manufactures, as mobile gaming is seen as another growth area for eSports.

eSports is able to have a global reach

Technological advancements allow both developers and players to communicate and socialise with each other on a global scale. In-game chat allows competitors who may be in the same team but on opposite sides of the globe to communicate. It also provides an opportunity for players to change teams or even form new ones, which allows the industry to evolve.

From a developer’s perspective, they are able to continue to create new content for their published games, expanding the competitions and keeping them fresh and appealing to competitors. It also means games have a longer shelf life: two of the biggest games in eSports are League of Legends and Starcraft II – which were originally released in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Having new and exciting game modes from which competitions can be organised is essential to keeping competitors engaged and to attract new players. The world’s most popular game right now – Fortnite – recently destroyed the entire map that competitors battle in, replacing it with a black hole before eventually launching their new world, generating huge amounts of publicity.

Ultimately, eSports is able to strike a balance between a competitive environment and social engagement, and it’s clear it will continue to increase in popularity.

1https://www.statista.com/statistics/490522/global-esports-market-revenue/

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