E-Sports: The Rise of Professional Gaming

Gamergy_by artubr

In little more than a dozen years, a new spectator sport has climbed from relative obscurity to worldwide popularity, attracting the interest of millions of fans, who on average devote more than an hour a day to watching their favorite players engage in their favorite sport: competitive gaming.

Also known as e-sports, competitive gaming now features professional players vying for million-dollar prize purses, a college circuit that offers scholarships to “student athletes,” tournaments before sold-out stadium crowds, and a global viewing audience projected to surpass 140 million by 2017.

From its start among a group of videogame-obsessed players and fans in South Korea in the late 1990s, competitive gaming has recently made its way into the mainstream. Especially since 2010, e-sports has boomed in popularity—in the US as well as globally. E-sports has already moved beyond a handful of dedicated gamers to become a successful spectator sport that is shown on large screens in stadiums and on mainstream TV as well as online, encompassing thousands of professional gamers (yes, players who make a living playing videogames) and millions of obsessed fans.


  • Nearly 100 million people worldwide view e-sports.
  • Twitch, a live-streaming website for competitive gaming, was purchased by Amazon.com for nearly $1 billion in 2014.
  • E-sports is gaining a foothold in colleges, with professional gamers now eligible for athletic scholarships.


Competitive gaming is no longer just for hardcore gamers.
A number of drivers are propelling competitive gaming into the mainstream:

  • Gaming. The growing popularity of gaming itself—and especially of free-to-play games like League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2), the current mainstays of professional play—has fueled interest among both players and fans. League of Legends, for example, is anticipated to add another 42 million new players in 2015, allowing it to reach a new high of 94 million monthly active users.
  • Millennial engagement. The majority of both participants and viewers of e-sports are between ages 20 and 35—a generation that grew up with videogames and enjoyed the advent of live streaming video in their early adulthood.
  • Connectivity. Internet speeds continue to improve, fueling the expansion of connectivity and especially live-streaming technology, which is allowing e-sports to build on its core audience and reach an ever-expanding number of viewers.


From its start in South Korea, e-sports has steadily spread westward across the globe, rising in popularity in France, Germany, and Sweden before crossing to the UK, and then attracting a still-growing audience in the US and Canada.


A demographic profile of e-sports enthusiasts would be young, predominately male, and successful (compared to other gamers).

  • Young: 55% of e-sports enthusiasts are between 21 and 35 years old; 32% are between 36 and 50. And 13% are 20 or younger.
  • Male: 70% of frequent viewers and participants in the US are male. Globally, 66% are male.
  • Married: E-sports enthusiasts are more likely to be married (52%) than the average gamer (39%).
  • Employed: E-sports enthusiasts are more likely to have a full-time job (71%) than the average gamer (50%).


“Right now, the e-sports demographic skews male, but that will change over time as the audience settles to reflect the wider demographic of people who play videogames, which is nearly equal among men and women. Women will continue to play a more visible and influential role in the gaming industry—not only as consumers, but as professional players, casters, and as leading game developers and designers.” — Steven Place, vice president, GEER


  1. The population of e-sports devotees—a fast-growing, youth- oriented, and male-skewed market segment—is very appealing to companies and brands. Those companies invested in engaging the hard-to-reach affluent young adult male will increasingly explore the opportunities afforded by the competitive gaming universe. Not only does this audience spend money more readily on e-sports; it also devotes considerable time (more than an hour a day, on average) to the activity, which deeply engages them. Research suggests that e-sports enthusiasts spend heavily not only on games, but also on smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices.
  2. Corporations and brands that provide consistent and continuous support to e-sports teams—leagues, and tournaments—are likely to gain respect and notice from e-sports fans. Sponsoring a Team House or covering individual teams’ travel and accommodations to tournaments, for example, would likely raise a brand’s or company’s profile among e-sports fans.
  3. Products that could be linked to e-sports performance seem like natural tie-ins for competitive gaming. Such products include Red Bull and other sports drinks, gamer snacks, products to reduce stress or anxiety, furniture (game-playing or game- enhancing chairs, couches, or tables), and wearables (especially health and performance monitors). As VR increases its place in e-sports, heightening athletic demands, opportunities will also emerge for products and services that improve athletic performance (food and drink, workout products and programs, etc.).


To read this entire brief — and to learn more about the trends and forecasts in this report and what they mean for your organization — contact michael@futureinfocus.com.