From gamers to gurus: The esports business surge
Imagine arenas roaring with fans, not for a last-minute Messi winner, but for a virtual victory on a screen. Welcome to the esports world, where the action is digital, the “athletes” hold controllers, and the atmosphere rivals the World Cup final.
It’s not traditional sports fans packing out these events. It’s primarily 18-27 year olds, a new generation that’s reshaping the entertainment landscape.
Esports’ rise is partly driven by Gen Z’s adoption of streaming apps like Twitch and Discord. Millions of users are playing and watching these platforms, turning esports into a multi-billion dollar industry and a lucrative niche for content creators.
Small businesses are catching on by selling merchandise, hosting LAN (local area network) gaming nights, and running affiliate marketing sites.
Getting paid to play video games sounds like a sweet deal to me. So what opportunities does it offer content creators?
The evolution of esports
Esports (or electronic sports) involves individuals and teams competitively playing video games, including multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), first-person shooter (FPS), sports simulation, and real-time strategy battles.
Gaming tournaments are live-streamed on Twitch and YouTube, attracting millions who cheer for their favorite Internet celebrity players or teams.
Amateur gamers often flock to LAN events, where they compete side by side, directly connected to a shared network. These events are hosted everywhere — from student living rooms to concert arenas. Viewers worldwide can tune in through streaming platforms to watch the action unfold as friends play using their gaming avatars.
Console games like Nintendo’s Smash Bros are popular at LAN parties. For many, a typical LAN night is an intimate affair, with friends converging in a single location, each with their gaming gear in tow. Once settled, one person sets up a LAN game, inviting the others to play.
However, when it comes to the high end of esports, LAN parties transform into major battlefields. These aren’t just your Friday-night Call of Duty sessions with beers and pizza. They’re high-stakes tournaments where the elite players showcase their prowess.
Here, it’s not just about having a good time and basking in glory. With corporate sponsorships from major brands, winners can gain media recognition and walk away with substantial prizes, further elevating their status in the esports community.
Understanding the game
There are two types of esports players — competitive pros and lifestyle players. The former are the elite and play for a living professionally, attending international tournaments and dedicating their lives to gaming.
Lifestyle gamers like ‘Ninja’ (Tyler Blevins), who rose to fame playing Fortnite, are content creators. The most successful creators monetize their skills and personality online, with Ninja earning around $500k per year from his Twitch subscribers alone.
Esports growth trajectory: Quick stats
Esports is on track to compete with traditional sports in terms of views and may one day rival the Champions League or the Super Bowl.
In 2022, the esports industry was already worth a cool $1.38 billion, and it’s expected to grow even more, potentially hitting $1.86 billion by 2025. That’s bigger than the entire GDP of Belize.
Remember when competitive gaming was just nerdy kids playing in their basements? Now, we’re looking at a predicted 720.8 million users by 2027. In 2023 alone, onlookers bet a staggering $2.34 billion on esports games.
With so much money at stake, it’s unsurprising that big business is trying to get a foothold, including Red Bull, Intel, and Mountain Dew, who sponsor multiple teams and tournaments.
Esports is snowballing into a monster industry, so how can smaller players cash in on this market?
The business side of gaming
Content creators can make a name for themselves in esports if they use the right tools. Here are some tips on how you can start a gaming channel on a budget.
- Start a YouTube or Twitch channel, podcast, or blog that shares tips, news, or reviews. Your set-up costs are minimal, and streaming platforms offer monetization opportunities.
- Suppose you’re skilled in a popular game such as League of Legends. In that case, you can offer coaching sessions to less experienced players, using Discord to build a community and charge people accordingly.
- If you have specialist knowledge, you can publish your thoughts on blog platforms such as Medium and earn money for engagement.
- You can also promote gaming products or platforms, earning a commission on sales through affiliate marketing links.
Showing passion and providing insights in your streaming channel will resonate more than insincere social campaigns. So whether it’s esports or any other industry, engaging directly and authentically with followers and offering them real value can help pave the way to profitability.
Streamers in the spotlight
One popular creator is Justin Nelson Stennett (King Jae), known for his skills in Tekken and Street Fighter. He teaches his followers how to play on his YouTube channel and also conducts reviews of new products.
King Jae has been streaming for seven years, initially while working other jobs, before going full-time. Since then, he’s become the face of multiple brand deals for Twitch, YouTube, Alienware, and Red Bull.
He’s also one of the first fighting game streamers to become a Twitch Ambassador and was a part of the #YouTubeBlackVoices Creator Class of 2021, a program dedicated to amplifying the voices of Black creators.
Elz the Witch gained recognition by uploading game “play-throughs” on YouTube, featuring titles like Final Fantasy 7 and Zelda Ocarina of Time.
Elz’s expertise has seen her co-host the FIFA E-World Cup final at The O2 Arena in London and host the Velo Globals gaming series Discovery Mode! Elz also presents a weekly radio show while running her podcast, Citizen Game.
Gaming is the gift that keeps on giving
As streaming platforms evolve, their influence on traditional sports and society — particularly on the next generation of entrepreneurs — has become undeniable.
King Jae and Elz the Witch are great examples of fans who have built a new career from scratch. Remember, it’s never just about the gameplay or service you offer. Successful streamers and businesses make their mark by nurturing a community and forming relationships, whether you share tips on Twitch or serve customers in a store.
Whether you’re a gaming fan, content creator, or someone looking to make money from the industry, the esports ocean is a plentiful bounty. So, while I’ve yet to win against my work buddies at Call of Duty (COD), I have my eye on a bigger prize than Pizza Friday bragging rights.