What it's Gonna Take to Launch Esports to the Next Level

Photo courtesy of Helena Kristiansson/ESL

Competitive sports have been present for centuries, providing outlets for self-expression, team bonding and many other benefits. Their popularity has shown no signs of slowing down with sports media having generated more than 23 billion dollars in revenue this year alone. Its mass appeal has stemmed from the wide variety of sports that each cater to some kind of demographic. Games such as football, basketball, and even corn hole see thousands of audiences tuning in to watch. It seems that there is a sport out there for just about anyone.

Data collected by the Statista website has revealed that esports viewership is expected to skyrocket from 435 million viewers in 2020 to a staggering 640 million in 2025. These numbers reflect a growing competitive scene that could possibly surpass other mainstream sports in coverage and viewership. As a result, Twitch and other streaming websites have been able to thrive and become pillars of the live-streaming industry. This impressive rise has even enticed celebrities and companies like ESPN to collaborate with esports tournaments in some manner.

Unlike other more mainstream sports, esports contains a unique quality in that there’s a vast catalog of games that each offer their own form of competitive play. Audiences often divert the most attention toward games under the fighting, shooting, and MOBA genres. So much attention is placed on these genres that events that solely focus on each of them such as EVO, Worlds, and CoD League have appeared. Each of these events consistently records impressive audience numbers and has managed to establish unlikely partnerships with relevant pop culture icons.

Not only has this provided a whole new form of entertainment for audiences, but it has also inspired many to seek careers as professional players. One such individual is Gavin Ellis, a bartender at Tutto Fresco, who is currently attending Saddleback Community College and working on becoming a nurse. With such a busy schedule, he often finds himself stressed out and exhausted. Most people would elect to rest or relax during their personal time, but that's not the case with Gavin. His relaxation comes in the form of dominating online opponents in Starcraft 2.

Starcraft 2
Starcraft 2 / Blizzard

In Starcraft 2, Blizzard’s sci-fi RTS game, the objective is to overpower your opponents' factions and destroy all of their command posts. Players can choose between the Terrans, Zerg, and Protoss to make up their armies and each group has its own set of advantages and disadvantages that make for some truly unique strategic gameplay. 

All of this enraptured a young Gavin after his father showed him the ropes with the original Starcraft. He became so enamored with the franchise that he would continue to follow the game 20 years later. Although he enjoyed the original Starcraft, its sequel is what has become his passion.

Gavin is currently in the Diamond League, uses the Zerg faction, and plays the game about four to five days a week for a couple of hours, working to reach higher leagues. When asked what this game means to him, Gavin stated that not only does it give him a positive outlet but it also serves as a connection with his father whom he highly values. His love for this game is not only limited to playing the title but also enjoying plenty of streams and tournaments centered around it. His favorite players are ByuN and Serral because of their exceptional tactics and ability to dominate matches. 

Another gamer who has dedicated themselves to mastering their favorite game is Nile Parra. Nile works at a local bar in Seattle and is currently working on becoming a physical therapist. His game of choice is the uber-popular battle royale, Fortnite. His love for Fortnite began a couple of years ago when he played the game at a friend's party. The game's unique building mechanics set it apart from other shooters in his eyes and immediately captured his attention. He downloaded the game onto his PlayStation 4 as soon as he got the chance and the rest is history.

Fortnite / Epic Games

Considered one of the biggest games in the industry, many of today's top streamers such as Ninja owe a lot of success to Fortnite. As a result, many fans have been enticed to reach the same levels of achievement.

Nile currently dedicates at least four hours most days of the week to practice with his squadmates, who he met through a shared Discord community. After many successful matches, he decided to work alongside them to compete. They have competed valiantly across multiple tournaments, but have yet to take the top prize. When asked what keeps him motivated, Nile said that watching Fortnite streams keeps him hopeful that can get to the next level of competitive play. Fortnite’s impact on Nile has been significant as it introduced him to a tight-knit community filled with life-long friends. 

Starcraft 2 and Fortnite have been featured in over 300 tournaments this year and have generated combined peak views of over 2 million. These numbers don't seem to be dwindling either as each of these games has seen a consistent rise in viewership each year according to Esports Charts. With prize pools also seeing significant growth alongside esports popularity, more players have flocked to the competitive scene.

Nile shared a similar perspective, stating that the accessibility this sport holds is the key to its success. Just about anyone can enter a tournament and take a crack at competing. There’s also the fact that various popular titles are now free-to-play reducing the costs even further for those that have some level of interest. Twitch has played a major role as well, through various content creators who stream popular esports titles. This gives casual audiences a chance to get a look into what makes these games so much fun.

Yet another committed player is Brad Lunny. He's a Customer Service Team Lead at Metagenics who also takes online classes through the University of New Hampshire. He recently purchased a new PC setup, aiming to take his Call of Duty skills to the next level. He’s been a fan of the franchise since the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and believes that his skills give him a chance at competing.

One of Brad's friends began streaming on Twitch recently, inspiring him to finally try and see how far his skills can get him. Brad's love for Call of Duty stems from its gameplay and the stress relief he finds whenever he plays a match. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. / Activision

He's not the only one enamored with the Call of Duty franchise. Each title has broken multiple records upon release. Many would be deterred from even thinking of competing given its massive popularity, but this has only motivated Brad to prove himself as one of the top players.

All three of these gamers only represent a small slice of the entire esports community filled with players that have come to depend on these competitions not only for entertainment, but a sense of identity that comes with rooting for your team or player. As these games have become an integral part of their lives, the coordination and execution of online esports tournaments have become even more involved to maintain the best experience possible.

Running an esports tournament is no small task. Large and dedicated crews are required to create a seamless experience for both participants and audiences. Setting up appropriate venues, sponsoring games with dedicated fanbases and wide appeal, alongside hiring the best on-air talent makes up only a small fraction of what teams deal with. The tech alone can prove to be the most challenging and costly aspect as equipping participants with the most optimal technical environment is critical for a successful tournament. Usually, sponsorships can aid in covering many of the costs, but if sponsors are not there to lend a hand then, according to a blog post by Bill Elafros, running a tournament can cost anywhere from 660 thousand dollars to a million dollars.

This hasn't stopped organizations from forming, trying to make a mark in this industry. Venues such as the HyperX and LevelUp Esports Arenas have already proved to be noteworthy tournament hosts with their sleek arena designs and huge amounts of attendees. With the esports market revenue reaching 243 million dollars in the United States alone, the reward is definitely worth the risk. 

Another company to jump into the esports ring is Esports Arena, a facility that hosts large-scale esports events, tournaments, video game competitions, and more. Founded in 2012, the goal was to create an environment where amateur gamers could practice and socialize with other gamers. In 2015, Esports Arena opened its first location in Santa Ana, CA, where it hosted competitions like the Series E, online matches that aid players to kickstart their esports career with some of the most prominent organizations in esports. 

Esports Arena Santa Ana Location
Esports Arena Santa Ana Location / Esports Arena

They recently closed their Santa Ana location and relocated their headquarters to a location in Irvine, California. Their current featured games are Multiversus, Halo Infinite, Apex Legends, and Guilty Gear: Strive. After gaining funding from the partnership with Allied Esports, more locations have been developed across the country. They’ve also partnered with Walmart stores nationwide and have created areas within them for gaming tournaments.

According to Zippia, Esports Arena is currently receiving an annual revenue of 1.7 million dollars and has experienced a good amount of success with its flagship E-series tournaments. Entering this business is very much a high-risk, high-reward situation for investors given its costs. That is what makes Esports Arena so unique when compared to other companies. Their main focus is to help casual gamers feel comfortable taking that extra step needed to compete. In doing so, they have been able to tap into a source of revenue that not many others have been able to.

Casual audiences are often disheartened by how daunting many popular esports titles can appear so finding ways to ease them into the ecosystem will help grow the overall esports scene. Offering coaching sessions and tournaments that don’t require the highest skill levels will serve to make esports more inviting and give new adopters a chance to become a part of the community. Sports like basketball and football are easily picked up by new fans, which is why they remain so popular. It’s imperative for the esports industry to break out of its niche bubble and implement ideas that make it even more accessible for those that have yet to dive into esports.

As of this moment, esports is clearly here to stay and will continue to succeed as more companies adopt similar approaches to Esports Arena. Gamers like Nile, Gavin, and Brad will benefit greatly from this and hopefully further their endeavors in reaching competitive levels of gaming. It will also continue to benefit from current, popular games and the constant influx of new ones presenting more opportunities for further competitive scenes. Esports has the ability to generate communities that house inviting, helpful members as well as foster a healthy competitive environment. It's what makes it a sport that anyone can be a part of and enjoy.