“Turn that off!! You’re never going to make a living playing games” – said every parent ever. Well I hate to tell you, but your parents lied. They have a habit of doing that; my mum told me I’d never get a job by spending all day on my computer, specifically on social media… Anyway, personal vindication aside, there is a pattern of older generations dismissing the emerging interests of younger generations all too soon. We’ve all got that family member who tries to lecture us about what ‘real music’ sounds like, and is generally overly nostalgic about their youth. I find myself doing it every now and then too.
I am not going to bore you with the numbers, as they’re everywhere now a days, (but if you need a quick recap just click here.), but rather as a millennial esports fan and a marketer, here’s why you can’t switch off from esports.
When I mention esports to those who haven’t heard of it, the reaction is often one of derision. “It’s not a sport, if you don’t break a sweat!!”, “Where’s the fun in just watching someone play a video game?”, “These people need to turn off their screens and make some friends!” However, these statements couldn’t be further from the truth for a growing number of millennials and Gen Z.
The players are extremely dedicated and will often train for hours each day to ensure they stay at the top of their game. Professional gaming requires lightning fast reactions, unwavering mental strength, and a tactical nous to outwit the opposition. Take FIFA for example, during qualifying month you’re required to play 40 games over the course of a weekend. With an average of 15 mins per game, that’s 10 hours of gameplay, and for the very top players even a single loss means it’s a bad weekend. Gruelling, right?! In some team based games, players can be making 300 actions per minute, whilst at the same time having to communicate with their teammates. This takes multitasking to a whole new level and in fact, some scientists believe computer games are now a better indication of exceptional intelligence than chess.
As for the audience, they come together to watch something they are extremely passionate about; it’s all about community. You support your team through thick and thin, and you make friends whilst doing so. In South East Asia and North America, supporters are regularly filling out stadiums. The League of Legends World Championship had a peak viewership of 80m unique viewers worldwide, and often the most enthusiastic fans travel around the world to watch their team compete. Esports and gaming today is primarily a social event, and the whole process has developed completely organically.
So, if I asked you to picture a dedicated esports fan, what do they look like to you?
Most people would picture something like this….
However, this is far from the case. Mark Potts, Head of Insights at Mindshare (North America), explains “Forget the stereotypes—your typical eSports fan isn’t just someone playing World of Warcraft in his mother’s basement. The eSports community is varied and evolving, ranging across audiences of working professionals, parents and more. It’s important for marketers to understand the nuances and differences in fans based on different eSports games, platforms and experiences.” 
Millennials who grew up gaming are still gaming today, and many working professionals use gaming and esports as a way to destress. Like almost all sports in the world, it’s the very fact you have played it at some stage in your life, that allows you to have a greater appreciation for seeing the game being played at the highest level. As for Gen Z they are growing up with esports, and this is the new normal.
I read an incredible insight in this years BBC ‘Price of Football 2017’ study, with the overarching headline being that ‘young adults are put off’ by the cost of football. When you consider both the price of tickets to watch football live, coupled with the cost of subscribing to providers such as Sky Sports and BT Sport, it soon adds up. In fact, the survey showed the number one way young adults are engaging with football is by playing games on a console or PC. Every esport has developed out of an existing dedicated fan base for the game, the players were organising local, national and even global online tournaments themselves to determine who is the best, and now the developers are professionalising competition.
Even better there is virtually no barrier to entry for some of the world’s largest esports. League of Legends is free to play, and the minimum technical requirements are so low you can play it on any entry level PC/laptop. For mega franchises such as Fifa, Madden and Call of Duty, it is almost a tradition for their fans to purchase the game at midnight on release day. Whilst every gamer isn’t necessarily an esports fan, with that level of dedication they have the potential to be.
Further, esports shouldn’t be viewed as a single sport, but more closely resembles the Olympics. There are so many different games under the umbrella of ‘esports’, Mass Online Battle Arena (MOBA): League of Legends, Dota 2. First Person Shooters: Call of Duty, Counter Strike Global Offensive (CS: GO), Sports Simulators: Fifa, Madden, and the list goes on. esports encompasses a wide-ranging fan base and it will continue to grow as more titles develop and enter the world of organised professional gaming.
It’s well known you’re not only more receptive to trying new things when you’re younger, but you’re better at picking them up too, and although you may not understand or appreciate esports. It certainly can’t be dismissed.