Esports: Trends to Watch in 2017

esports2016 was a banner year for sports, but in particular, for esports. The industry turned in some staggering numbers in terms of audiences, revenue and major growth – approaching almost $500 million in industry revenue.

2017 should be another blockbuster year for esports, which experts predict will grow to 145 million global enthusiasts. The industry will continue to become more mainstream as traditional sports teams and owners get involved, and anyone who still thinks that making a living playing video games isn’t a real “career option” will likely be silenced once and for all.

Here are some top esports trends to watch for in 2017…

Continued parallels to mainstream sports:

  • Traditional sports owners are buying esports teams, especially in the NBA, and events are being hosted in traditional sports venues, meaning more exposure to casual fans.
  • Key areas for growth in 2017: live event sophistication, technology, enhancing fan experiences for in-person and live viewers, regulation, and union and integrity groups are growing and gaining strength – taking cues from partners in traditional sports.
  • Intercollegiate esports networks will grow and become more sophisticated. Schools with natural geographic and conference rivalries will really make their mark in 2017.
  • New league models will emerge, such as Overwatch’s launch of an ambitious new league. It will have a season and an off-season, with new levels of accessibility to players and fans. Teams will have geographic locals and model systems similar to the MLB and MLS in terms of player development, sustainability and entertainment.
  • Big names are getting involved. Check out SHAQ’s event at the White House in late 2016.

Monetization / brands getting involved:

  • More and more channels will open up for esports, especially in entertainment with esports books and movies coming in 2017.
  • North America and Europe will start to catch up with Asia in terms of investment from marquee brands outside the endemic products.
  • The amount of brands involved will triple in 2017, with more unique and non-endemic sponsors jumping on board. Big marquee brand names are signing on or upping their investment by the day in 2017.

Players / athletes becoming more influential:

  • Players will be treated more like celebrities, with more media attention, and they will be more sought after by brands. As an example, check out this profile KSE helped secure for Faker, the first ever esports athlete profiled by Players Tribune.
  • Players will be used more by brands and communicators as part of their influencer marketing programs.
  • As a more mainstream audience starts to tune in, there is plenty of untapped potential to uncover the story behind these athletes, and what makes them interesting players and people – focusing on rivalries, backstories and all the elements that make athletes in other sports so compelling to fans worldwide.
  • Casters (hosts/announcers similar to mainstream sports) will become even more popular and utilized in media, sponsorships and influencer marketing.

Streaming:

  • At the end of 2016, Riot Games (*client) brokered a $300M monster deal with BAM Tech for streaming rights through 2023. BAM Tech, which has similar deals with NHL, PGA, HBO and ESPN, will help Riot launch a dedicated streaming app next year and will handle distribution and monetization of League tournaments across third-party platforms like YouTube and Amazon’s Twitch.
  • Expect more of this in 2017, and keep an eye on services such as Amazon and Netflix to get in the mix – giving esports an even bigger platform and better technology for players, teams, fans and sponsors.

More mainstream media coverage:

  • ESPN and Yahoo’s dedicated esports news verticals will continue to grow in 2017. ESPN is even covering off-season free agency as they would in the NFL or NBA.

About Patrick Wixted Sean Flynn and Kristyn Haertel

Patrick Wixted Sean Flynn and Kristyn Haertel are members of Ketchum's Sports and Entertainment (KSE) Team.