Esports has grown up. 2016 was another strong year for the rapidly growing Esports industry, with mid 2016 figures pointing towards a 52% growth in revenues over 2015. However, the most impressive change I observed throughout the past year, was how the industry has grown up from its originally niche (yet dedicated and passionate) core fan base, and how mass media has started to have its say on Esports. This has come through increasing coverage of Esports news from more traditional media outlets, such as the BBC and Sky, with both parties publishing online Esports news, as well as airing documentaries regarding Esports. Additionally, and in my eyes most impressively, Esports is being broadcasted live on TV, with huge names such as Turner in the US investing massively into the industry, airing live tournaments on their TBS channel.

As a result of the increasing mass media coverage of Esports, people who otherwise may not have heard of Esports are becoming aware of what Esports is, and what it entails. For those who still do not know, Esports can be defined as a form of competition that is facilitated by electronic systems, in particular video games. It is these video game competitions that are now being broadcast onto mainstream television, as well as being watched live in bars, and filling huge stadiums around the world. More and more people are being made aware of what Esports is through mediums such as social media, and more traditional print media. Similarly, with experienced production companies such as Turner investing and broadcasting weekly Esports tournaments, the Esports world has seen a surge in quality of production, as standards have been raised. This has resulted in many of the other broadcasters upping their production quality, and this has helped to give Esports a more professional appearance.

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Turner ELEAGUE’s Studio

In the UK, Ginx TV have become the first 24-hour dedicated Esports TV channel, after Sky invested £1.55 million into the brand. Previously, viewers had to access the tournaments through online services such as the Amazon owned Twitch.tv. However, due to more traditional platforms such as television broadcasting Esports, a new demographic, such as older generations, are viewing these live tournaments. Social media posts have shown parents watching Esports with their children, something that would have never taken place if online platforms were the only platform for viewing. Resultantly, with Esports now being shown live on television with the backing of experienced broadcasters, the industry is being taken more seriously, and treated with a greater amount respect.

2016 saw a surge in traditional sports teams, as well as ex-sportsmen investing into Esports. West Ham United and Manchester City, both well-known Premier League Football teams, have both acquired professional FIFA players. In the case of West Ham, it was said that one of the professional football players who had recently signed for the club was denied their preferable kit number, as it was taken by Sean Allen, the FIFA Esports professional at the club. Esports is being taken seriously be these traditional sports teams, and it is fantastic to see that sports teams are embracing Esports, and investing into it. In addition to Premier League teams signing FIFA professionals, FC Schalke have signed a full League of Legends Esports roster. Rick Fox, the ex NBA star, has set up his own Esports organisation, and his teams have competed at the highest level throughout many different games. Traditional sports teams and previous professionals are investing into Esports, bringing their managerial and organisational experience to the scene, another step to bringing increased professionalism and integrity to Esports.

Throughout 2016, we saw Esports being covered by traditional media outlets in a far greater capacity than we had in previous years. Sky Sports and the BBC both featured Esports documentary’s, aired on their television channels. This has helped to put Esports in the spotlight, for a demographic who would have otherwise not heard of it, significantly raising their understanding of Esports. Print mediums such as The Guardian have featured Esports articles, even probing the question of “whether professional Esports players should be regarded as athletes?”. These media outlets are starting to delve deeper into the world of Esports, going greater than just the surface of what Esports is. The BBC’s documentary, titled ‘The Supergamers’, followed the lives of a number of British Esports players, and Sky Sports have provided in depth coverage of a number of Esports tournaments. Arenas are being filled in Britain, Europe, The Americas and Asia, with live coverage now being shown on our TV’s. How far off is Esports from reaching the level of coverage of more traditional sports? That was not a question we expected to be able to ask, if we’d have made predictions at the start of 2016.

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Ninjas in Pyjamas – A Swedish Esports Organisation

With experienced production companies broadcasting live Esports events on television, traditional sports teams investing into players, and the traditional media branching out into Esports journalism, 2016 has been a fantastic year for Esports ‘growing up’. With the industry being predicted to be worth more than $1 Billion in 2017, and with millennials being the generation surrounded by technology and gaming, Esports seems set to continue its path of increasing growth and professionalism.