More Than A Game: The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Turned Esports Into An Economy Of Its Own

from the jobs-jobs-jobs dept

One of the dangers when we talk about esports and its rapid growth, particularly during this pandemic, is that those not in the know can see this as hobbyists touting their own hobby. It's understandable to some degree, what with this industry being both in its infancy stage and growing exponentially in speed. Still, while we've had several posts lately focusing on how esports is happily filling the void of traditional live sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth remembering that this isn't just a hobby any longer. It's an economy in and of itself.

And that, to put a fine point on it, means jobs. Lots and lots of jobs, actually, and economic growth going along with it. NBC has an illuminating post on just how fast streaming companies are expanding to keep up with the esports demand.

Viewership on Amazon’s Twitch, YouTube, Facebook and other streaming platforms has spiked tremendously in the past couple of months, owing to the fact that esports was born and exists online and competitors can play remotely in its virtual realm during the crisis. And although the millions of Americans suddenly unemployed include tens of thousands of people who work for the shuttered traditional sports leagues’ offices, ballparks and stadiums, as well as the ancillary businesses that support and supply them, the esports workforce is relatively intact.

“Yes, we are still hiring,” said a spokesperson for the streaming website Twitch, a unit of Amazon that enjoyed a 23% surge in viewership in March. In mid-May its jobs page listed more than 115 positions, from a senior software engineer at its San Francisco headquarters to an advertising sales director in Singapore.

It's not just that esports is now a billion dollar industry. It's also that it's an industry somewhat uniquely positioned to not just weather this pandemic, but to thrive during it. And, as more and more people adopt esports for entertainment while traditional sports are shutdown, there is no reason to think that all of those new adopters are suddenly going to disappear if and when life goes back to something relatively normal. But above, you're talking about the primary players in the industry: leagues, teams, streaming platforms. Of course those have all grown.

But the real power in esports becoming a fully fleshed out industry is, just like with real sports, all of the jobs and industry that come along for the ride. Industry that, again, is well crafted for the very young people that suddenly find themselves without opportunities for jobs in more traditional workplaces.

The burgeoning esports workforce — largely comprised of millennials and Gen Zers — also includes software engineers, content creators, data analysts, game designers, social media specialists, broadcasters, journalists, marketers, partnership managers, advertising and sponsorship salespeople, event managers, venue operators, concessionaires, accountants, lawyers and office staff. There are private chefs and house managers employed at the digs where teams live together, and there are counselors who wrangle kids at esports summer camps.

“You see a lot of mirroring of the traditional sports industry in terms of employment opportunities, but the roles have a twist on them,” said Remer Rietkerk, head of esports at Amsterdam-based Newzoo, a market research firm specializing in esports and gaming. “You have a different set of challenges due to esports being digital and attracting a different audience,” he added, alluding to the worldwide fan base of 443 million, according to Newzoo’s latest Global Esports Market Report.

And the trend lines are all rising. All of this is to say a couple of things. First, esports isn't some fad that's going away any time soon. Second, it's long past time we stop talking about esports as though it were this niche entertainment choice enjoyed by very few via a few odd and hard to navigate internet platforms.

No, esports is big business. And big entertainment. Even the traditional broadcasters are paying attention and turning to esports in this time of crisis. Before the pandemic, esports was finding itself on larger and larger platforms and on more and more traditional networks. This crisis only supercharged that trend.

And finally, if you care about jobs and economic growth, that is all very welcome news in times like these.

Filed Under: covid-19, e-sports


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  • icon
    carborundum (profile), 21 May 2020 @ 8:06am

    Time to hop aboard?

    Any chance of an esports primer for those of us late to the party? I thought esports was fortnight and league of legends tournaments but apparently there's NASCAR and baseball. What else?

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2020 @ 8:14am

    I still the question the idea of it being "big business"

    For the moment eSports still has a major problem of engagement and actual attention. I'm not saying it doesn't have large viewership numbers, but how many of those viewers are invested in the way we would associate fans of a regular sporting event? Especially outside the small number of championship/cup/whatever final matches that happen per year for the few games that actually have eSports leagues to speak of?

    The other problem is the industry built around physical sports makes up a huge chunk of the sports industry, and none of that exists in eSports. The few physical matches all take place in established venues for general conventions or existing physical sport arenas (as far as I'm aware). The lack of a constant physical footprint means there are no, or severely reduced at least, billions of dollars in food, logistics, services, construction, etc of activity surrounding the actual "sports" industry itself. Which isn't to say that eSports may be small, just that they're really limited in scope in ways that aren't immediately apparent to physical sports.

    As a side note it's amazing to look at smaller community lead efforts for competitive gaming. For example, the Total War series of games by Creative Assembly, especially the Total War Warhammer series, has built up and maintained a healthy, if pretty small, competitive tournament system for years now. Another game called Starsector has a very niche/small and occasional community led tournament whereby they design the units they would take into a battle map but the AI of the game actually controls the units after the match starts, so it's player designed AI vs AI matches. There are event annual tournament style events for some board games that take place via electronic means to draw in players without requiring a physical meetup.

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  • icon
    crade (profile), 21 May 2020 @ 8:38am

    there is no reason to think that all of those new adopters are suddenly going to disappear if and when life goes back to something relatively normal

    You mean when live sports are an option again there is no reason to think a large number of people will switch back to spending their entertainment time watching those? Well the reason would be that they chose them over esports when they were available before.. What reason do we have to think they won't switch back?

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