he launch of ESPN’s eSports coverage and the acquisition of MLG Assets by Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s largest interactive entertainment players, are just a couple of examples that illustrate its recent rise. We look at the factors driving this explosive growth and some of the issues associated with eSports.
The growth story
The number of people playing multiplayer online games is increasing rapidly and live tournaments are attracting huge audiences. Streaming technologies like YouTube Gaming, Twitch and Kamkord have made it very easy for people to watch their favourite eSports event. According to recent data, the game League of Legends at the Words 2015 event drew in 36 million unique viewers. Brands like ESPN want to connect with this passionate audience, and capitalise on the opportunity. In fact, broadcasters, enthusiasts, and players hope to see eSports at the same level as the NFL or the NBA.
The games themselves are extremely dynamic. Players’ games evolve over time as new weapons and new maps are released along with new lands, new superpowers, and characters. As people mature and get better at the games, in turn, the games improve with the people. It appears the general consensus is that these are becoming more accepted as games of skill rather than games of chance.
In terms of audience numbers, Asia is leading the way, but Western markets are catching-up fast and this will no doubt be accelerated as more recognisable mainstream brands become engaged.
There are a few issues facing eSports which the industry is looking to address this year. These include competitive integrity and player verification. Considering the global nature of the sport and the huge sums of money involved, it is imperative to have an effective regulatory framework.
With the current boom in the profile of eSports, we’re also seeing a significant growth in the variety of games on offer. The core is still seen with titles such as league of legends, DOTA 2 and CS:GO, however the convenience of mobile devices is seeing titles like Hearthstone, Vainglory and even traditional ‘social games’ like Clash of Clans starting competitive tournaments and leagues as well as streaming audiences.
eSports and the Isle of Man
There is great potential for eSports’ continued growth as the sector receives regulatory approval. The Isle of Man has been licensing these businesses for many years and we are seeing great demand in licensing enquiries at present. With its strong reputation in player protection and KYC, world class regulatory environment, and high quality IT infrastructure including carrier-class data connectivity, five hosting centres and overall cost-effectiveness, the jurisdiction is well placed to make the most of the growth in eSports.
eSports is no longer just an interesting “cool” trend; it is a lucrative business sector involving advertisers, sponsors and media companies. There is also a lot of venture capital coming in. 2015 was an important year for the eSports industry and it looks like 2016 will be another promising year which could change the way competitive video games are played.