The esports industry in 2020

Esports have burst into the mainstream in recent years, forging an entire industry of their own. An industry that exceeds $1.1 billion in revenues and attracts audiences of more than 495 million across the globe today. Competitive gaming may date back as far as the 1970s, but it's only in the last decade or so that esports have evolved from niche interest to commercial hit. So, what does the industry look like today?

The growth of esports

Esports have come a long way since their conception in the 1970s, when students flocked to compete in a game of "Spacewar", a space combat game played on one of the first ever computers. Now, global championships are held around the world, attracting thousands of professional players and even more spectators.

The esports industry has skyrocketed, with the revenue tripling and audience size quadrupling over the past five years. And, taking a broader look at the industry over a 20-year period, the number of competitive players has multiplied by 368 and the number of tournaments by 322.

The top esports games

To make the cut as an "esport", the game doesn't necessarily have to be a AAA title. Esports comprise both popular and lesser known games, ranging from high-octane epics with impressive visuals, to a straightforward game of chess. One bit of important criteria, however, is the game must have a clear winner.

From long-running titles such as Dota 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to action-centred games like Fortnite, here are the top 10 games of 2020.

Rank Game Genre Prize Pool ($) Players Tournaments Hours watched
1 Dota 2 Multiplayer online battle arena 223.3M 3.7k 1,370 199M
2 Counter-Strike:
Global Offensive
First-person shooter 95.5M 12.7k 4,900 215M
3 Fortnite Battle royale game 85.2M 3.3k 540 28M
4 League of Legends Multiplayer online battle arena 74.6M 6.9k 2,430 349M
5 StarCraft II Real-time strategy 32.8M 2k 5,800 23M
Battle royale game 21.6M 2.6k 280 27M
7 Overwatch First-person shooter 21.7M 3.5k 740 110M
8 Hearthstone Digital collectible card game 21M 2.3k 860 37M
9 Heroes of the Storm Multiplayer online battle arena 18.1M 1.2k 460 Unknown
10 Arena of Valor Multiplayer online battle arena 14.6M 0.5k 50 32M

The most popular esports genres

The most popular genre among the top 100 esports games is 'First Person Shooter', with 31% of the titles falling under this category. A timeless concept in the gaming world, this type of game involves shooting enemies and targets, played from the perspective of the character being controlled. Second in popularity are 'Fighting Games', indicating a somewhat violent theme among the biggest hits.

  1. First person shooter
  2. Fighting game
  3. Sports game
  4. Multiplayer online battle arena
  5. Battle royale game
  6. Racing video game
  7. Massively multiplayer online role-playing game
  8. Real time-strategy
  9. Digital collectible card game
  10. Third person shooter

The top esports tournaments

Competitions that once were confined to an arcade are now filling up huge arenas around the world and streamed for the greater public's viewing. In fact, esports tournaments are watched by millions. The Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2017 was one of the largest esports events in history, with a live attendance of 173,000 and viewership of 46 million.

Peak viewers in 2019 graph

Esports in 2020

Like many industries, esports have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to live events being cancelled. However, unlike traditional sports, which have been forced to press pause, esports have the advantage of being able to run digitally. In fact, many traditional sports have taken advantage of esports to maintain cash flow during the pandemic. For example, The Virtual Grand Prix drew 3.2 million online viewers, with an estimated 1.2 million watching on TV.

The COVID-19 lockdowns have boosted user engagement with esports and revenues for many gaming companies and platforms have increased during the pandemic. Popular streaming sites, such as Twitch, YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming, for example, have experienced a 20% increase in the numbers of hours streamed. The market is expected to generate close to 1.8 billion U.S. dollars in revenue by 2022, though this is likely to be understated.

Esports in 2020 graph

Esports in the UK

While esports isn't as popular in the UK as it is in countries such as China, USA and Germany, new research has revealed that around 7% of the UK population (4 million) watch esports regularly. Further to this, London has been hosting dozens of esports tournaments each year.

The UK boasts approximately 3,000 professional players, however, there is only one British player in the top 100 (Jaden Ashman, 16), leading to calls from fans for there to be more attention given to the esports industry nationally.