Esports is considered a fairly new cultural phenomenon, with televised events even more of a novel idea. In fact, esports broadcasting has been around for decades. The first competitive gaming events were televised back in 1999 when South Korean audiences could tune into StarCraft matches on their TV screens. In just a few years, the appetite for esports in this part of the world had grown considerably. By 2005, there were several cable stations with programming late decked out with esports scheduling. However, it would take far longer for esports to find a willing broadcast audience elsewhere in the world.
A Growing Appetite for Esports
Esports events were bringing live audiences as early as the 1990s. In the United States, the Nintendo World Championship attracted heaving crowds across more than two dozen cities. In 1997, Quake’s inaugural Red Annihilation tournament set the framework for online esports events. However, it wasn’t until the 2000s that televised esports became a thing.
In 2007, specialist channel Ginx TV was launched in the United Kingdom. Along with original programming and online-only podcast content, Ginx TV has broadcast top-tier tournaments. Meanwhile, ESTV burst onto the scene in 2020, combining live linear programming with on-demand services.
In 2022, an estimated 532 million people tuned in to at least one esports event. This means that more people were tuning into esports esports tournaments than the MLB or NBA.
What’s Next for Esports Broadcasting?
Outside of South Korea, televised esports occupies a pretty narrow niche. However, there are some exceptions. Esports giants like ESL have their own dedicated channel, which showcases live events like the Pro League and IEM. Other broadcasting heavyweights like ESPN have also got in on the action. Recently, ESPN and sister station Disney XD broadcast live fixtures from the EVO Championship Series and Overwatch League. Even the likes of the BBC have dabbled with live broadcasting of esports events in the past few years.
However, the majority of people watch esports events via streaming services like Twitch. Streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube are readily accessible and free to view. For digital natives, these platforms are the preferred broadcast medium.
Even if traditional broadcasters wake up to the appeal of esports, it’s going to be difficult to redirect audiences from computer and tablet screens to televisions. In 2022, the esports betting market was worth an estimated estimated $671 million. By 2028, experts predict the betting market to be worth more than $2.7
billion. As with conventional sports, live streaming is the perfect partner for in-game betting. These two sectors are closely intertwined, so even if a sizable share of the audience does migrate to TV-only broadcasts, don’t expect online audiences to fall away.
Going forward, expect esports to carve more of a presence on streaming services. The likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime are already looking to the video game sector for the next big thing. It wouldn’t be too much of a shock to see Netflix capitalize on its success with the League of Legends anime, Arcane, by streaming live coverage of LoL events. Likewise, with Amazon already a premier destination for live sports coverage and the advent of Prime Gaming, it’s unlikely this streaming giant will want to be left behind.