I attended the eSports Summit at BAFTA in London last week. If there was one key take-away it was this: eSports is the next big thing. Listening to the various speakers, it felt a lot like the rapid rise of Poker in early 2000s, or UFC in the past decade. The key difference is that eSports will be so much bigger, & maturity will happen so much faster. For those already in the space, this is obvious. But for many, like me, this will come as a surprise. Here are some key numbers:

According to ESPN:

When Major League Gaming launched in the early 2000s, its tournaments played out in hotel ballrooms before … dozens of fans. Today, eSports’ biggest tournaments rival practically any sporting event. The League of Legends Championship sold out Staples Center in 2013, then sold out the 40,000-seat World Cup Stadium in Seoul a year later while drawing an online audience of 27 million — more than the TV viewership for the final round of the Masters.

Further, as an overall category, gaming has more YouTube followers than news, movies and education combined.

Despite this, eSports as an industry is still immature & niche as far as the mainstream media is concerned. Although Minister Ed Vazey is supporting the new eGames (Olympics for eSports) in Rio2016, it will take some clever messaging from government and others to address the 2 main barriers of wider, faster growth:

  1. Lack of physical activity
  2. Male dominated participation (especially at a professional level)

This might explain why Dr Jo Twist (Ukie) hosted a panel session which addressed the issue head on. Panellists included an Olympian (sprinter Adam Gemeli), Paralympian (Mark Fosbrook), female pro-gamer (Anahi Dhaunae), female developer (Veronique Lallier), plus Spike Laurie from eSports event organiser ESL. All panellists agreed that the definition of ‘athlete’ needs to be broader.

The reasons? To provide (i) kids a different type of hero to which to aspire — as not everyone wants to be/can be an Olympic sprinter, plus (ii) an alternative path for their future. The benefits of gaming are similar to those in active pursuits — focus, discipline, structure, achievement, goal-setting, stamina, among other benefits. Yes it’s an ‘inactive’ sport/game, but according to the panel — all of whom were gamers — the message of pursuing physical activity still remains as if you’re active AND a gamer, you will be healthier and hence a better gamer.

What is clear from the statistics is that despite any perceived or real barriers, and whether or not the government intervenes further, eSports is real, growing, and has the numbers to prove it. Just a matter of time before it becomes part of the national psyche alongside the ‘other’ Olympics.

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