eSports Growth Accelerated by the Pandemic


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Although the pandemic hit traditional sports hard, esports have been well-placed to benefit from the restrictions Covid-19 has placed on the world. When social distancing was mandated, preventing athletes from competing and spectators gathering, gaming could take advantage of being a competitive event in which the stars and fans don’t even need to be on the same continent. It also appears to have benefited from sports fans, unable to enjoy their usual team, watching gaming as an alternative.

Significant increase in viewers

Although esports held physical events, like any sport, these were mainly a venue, with a larger audience watching via other means. In 2019 ticket sales accounted for around one-eighth of esports’ $1.3 billion revenue. And although that was lost in 2020, the increased advertising and sponsorship virtual events with bigger viewers numbers attracted more than compensated.

The growth has also been sustained, even as the pandemic restrictions have been lifted. The 2021 Free Fire World Series, held in Singapore, attracted a peak of 5.4 million viewers watching live streams on platforms like Twitch. This smashed the previous record of 3.9 million viewers, set in 2019 at the League of Legends Championship.

This has been helped by real-life sports crossing over, half the 2020 Formula 1 drivers took part in a virtual event, bringing with them large numbers of motor racing fans. And, in turn, this is helping esports consolidate their place in the mainstream. The BBC, for example, have signed deals to show esports events, especially the crossovers, that will likely draw a new audience.

Increased interest from gamblers

The gambling industry has long offered odds on almost anything. However, esports are increasing their profile and moving from being a niche bet to a mainstream betting option.

The UK’s Gambling Commission didn’t even collect statistics on esports until relatively recently, and while it still makes up a small part of the UK gambling industry, it has grown significantly in recent years. In March 2019, the gross gambling yield, basically the money bookmakers take, less the winnings they paid, were just £50,000. A year later, with the start of the first lockdown and the figure was £1,518,000. Two months after that, fuelled by a lack of alternative events, it had more than tripled to £4,616,000. And although the numbers have dropped since, the most recent figures, May 2021, show a yield of over £2 million, showing that the esports market is likely here to stay and grow.

A new, but growing market

Esports remains a relatively new market. And like any market, it shares the characteristic of a maturing sector. The field is fragmented, with many small operators, and even the largest are not that big. The top ten players account for nearly seventy per cent of the market, with Activision Blizzard Inc. holding the biggest share at 22%.

However, the corporations are starting to consolidate, for example, Niantic recently acquired Mayhem. And as more dominant names emerge, it’s also likely they will have more presence to project esports into the mainstream and to a wider audience. And, with that, become a bigger market: the $1.3 billion it’s worth every year is expected to grow by nearly a quarter each year, to be with $2.9 billion by 2025.

About the author

Carl Hughes


Carl Hughes


Carl Hughes is a leading expert on sports and casino betting. Carl began his career with a BSc in Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Birmingham before working within the industry for some of the bigger names (GVC and Bet365) and has been praised as being "a leading sports betting commentator".