Esports Growth: How Gamers Conquered a Multi-Billion Market

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Teddy Mitova
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Teddy Mitova

Updated · Jul 27, 2023

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I bet you have heard about at least one of the top video games such as Dota 2, League of Legends and Counter-Strike. But do you know that they are now esports with professional players, a massive fanbase, numerous events, and mind-blowing prizes? Lately, there’s been a truly astonishing esports growth.

Maybe you play one of these games. Or, perhaps you follow esports tournaments religiously and curse any time a game takes place in the middle of the night where you live?

Or maybe you just have a partner or friends who are obsessed and you can’t help but learn a bit about that space. (Like the name of that big ugly guy or the heroes’ taunts in Dota 2.)

Even if you know nothing about esports, the next few eye-popping esports facts are bound to grab your attention. People are going crazy over them!

Just look at the rapid esports growth:

  • The first esports event dates back to 1972. There were 10,000 attendees and the prize was a 1-year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.
  • In 2018, the esports industry' worth was at $906 million, while in 2019 it was expected to reach $1.1 billion!
  • Out of these $906 million, $694 million came from brand investments (direct and indirect). That’s a 48% increase in brand investment from the previous year.
  • By 2019, the number of viewers grew to 443 million and was expected to reach 586 million in 2020!
  • While in 2012, people were spending a mere 1.3 billion hours watching esports videos, in 2018 that number had more than quintupled - to 6.6 billion hours. Thus, the hours spent watching esports videos have increased by an average of 900 million each year since 2012.
  • The total prize money in 2019 reached over $211 million - a good sign for the esports economy.

Sounds amazing, right? Check out the rest of the cool facts about esports in general and esports growth below and then go impress your friends.

What Is an Esport?

There are different ways to define esports, but it basically means playing video games in tournaments. (And hopefully winning them and making this a source of income.) It is not a recent phenomenon, but it has spread like wildfire in the last decade and keeps growing.

There is a wide variety of games you can play and watch for free on platforms like Facebook, Youtube or

Similarly to traditional sports, there are many teams, tournaments, prizes, and fans worldwide.

Who Plays Esports?

The good news is, everyone can play. It’s free and it’s fun, especially with friends. However, to become a professional player, you need to put in the work, just like in any other sport.

Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s not an exclusive man’s world. More and more women are getting hooked on esports. According to 2018's esports statistics, 15%-30% of spectators were women, while female players are 30% and growing.

As you might expect, esports are attracting more teens and younger people nowadays.

But wait, here is the best thing:

It is a worldwide obsession. Then it’s no wonder that the esports economy is thriving.

There are 260 million people in China alone - either playing or watching esports. The number keeps increasing too.

North America and Europe are not far behind, while Southeast Asia, South America, and even Australia and Africa have joined the fun.

So why is everyone going crazy over esports?

Try playing and watching the following games and see for yourself.

The most popular games are team-based multiplayer ones - most often online battle arenas. They are dynamic and fast-paced, with many actions happening simultaneously. Coming up next is a list of the favorites.

This is the January 2020 report, including the most-watched esports games on Twitch - a streaming platform just for games.

  1. League of Legends
  2. CS:GO
  3. Dota 2
  4. Overwatch
  5. Hearthstone

So here's what the most popular esports of 2020 are about:

League of Legends

Feeling like a superhero already? It’s legen...wait for it...dary!

The name is LoL for short. It belongs to the MOBA genre, which means “multiplayer online battle arena”. It is a strategic game, in which your character teams up with others against an enemy team.

It’s the most streamed esports game on Twitch with over 10 million followers and nearly 118,000 streamers.

There are more than 5,000 professional players, while about 115 million played the game casually in 2019.

So far there have been around 2000 professional tournaments with combined prize pools of $49 million - can you imagine?!

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

CS: GO (for short) is a multiplayer first-person shooter game. This is kinda self-explanatory - again, there are two teams shooting each other.

It has the highest number of active professional players, 8,500+.

It also has more than 9 million followers and nearly 50,000 streamers on Twitch.

The prize pools in total amount to more than $42 million, from almost 3000 tournaments.

CS: GO is certainly shooting for the stars!


Its full majestic name is Defense of the Ancients. LoL and DOTA are quite similar and people often quarrel about which is better, just like the fans of Star Wars and Star Trek.

You guessed it - it’s a MOBA game with teams battling each other. Each team has to destroy the other’s strongly defended structures (called Ancients) on the opposite end of the map.

It has the highest total prize pool - more than $126 million, even though there have been only about 850 tournaments so far. Impressive!

It has 4 million followers and 52,500 Twitch streamers. On average there have been more than 545,000 casual players in the last 30 days.


It is a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter with a total of 37-40 million casual players.


This one is a digital collectible card game where players compete against each other. It has more than 100 million registered players.

Rocket League

Rocket LeagueIt is basically football with cars. Sounds weird, but fun, right? There are single-player and multiplayer modes. It combines two cool things into one, so it’s no wonder that there are over 50 million players.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege

It is an online tactical shooter game with 40 million players.


PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a multiplayer battle royal game, in which up to 100 players land on an island and look for equipment and weapons to kill each other. Hunger Games much?

In 2018 it hit 400 million total players.

And last but not least:


Who doesn’t know FIFA? Football is the most popular sport in the world, so it’s no surprise there is a popular esports game based on it as well. FIFA 18 and 19 have 45 million players.

And to be more precise, here are the most watched games in 2019:

  1. League of Legends - 170.8 million hours
  2. Overwatch - 75.9 million hours
  3. PUBG - 45.4 million hours
  4. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - 40.1 million hours

But you don’t have to choose - you can have the best of every world! Most organizations such as Liquid have teams in more than one sport. It’s the same for Evil Geniuses (cool name, right?) who are actually one of the oldest professional gaming organizations, founded in 1999.

Еsports really do have, in fact, deep roots and traditions. Now prepare to have your mind blown by the impressive market and revenue growth of esports.

Money Money Money

It’s always sunny in the gaming world. The esports market is growing rapidly and there are no signs of it slowing down.

How big is esports exactly? Just look at this:

  • In 2018, the esports industry made a total of $906 million in revenue, while in 2019 revenues were expected to reach $1.1 billion.
  • Out of these $906 million, $694 million came from brand investments (direct and indirect). That’s a 48% increase in brand investment from the previous year.

This is crazy:

  • The estimation is that the esports market will reach $2.4 billion by 2024.

It is free to watch and while some people are just spectators, others watch esports not only for fun but also to learn how to play better. By 2019, the number of viewers had grown to 1.25 billion.

It only gets better:

  • While in 2012 people were spending a mere 1.3 billion hours watching esports videos - in 2018, that number was at 6.6 billion hours. Thus, the hours spent watching esports videos increased by an average of 900 million each year.

Want to know the best part? Just see how much one can win and you’ll probably wish to be a pro:

  • The total prize money in 2019 reached $211 million.

This includes the prize for DOTA 2 tournaments, which grows every year.

Dota 2 International 2019 holds the record for the largest prize pool in esports ever - $34,330,068 in prize money, with the winner taking 40% of that.

It’s way better than that subscription to Rolling Stone magazine in 1972 (for just 1 year!), isn’t it?

Now, apart from winning competitions, there are many ways to earn money in this industry. For example, some streamers earn over $100,000 a month from subscriptions. Another source of income is donations from esports fans, which can bring up to $5,000 a day.

There’s definitely a lot of money in esports and many possibilities.

Wonder how all of this is possible? Here’s the deal:

What Causes This Marvelous Growth

Naturally, since there is a large and engaged audience, brands have recognized the potential and have been investing in esports for years now. This is one of the main things contributing to this industry’s rapid growth.

Of the total $906 million esports revenue in 2018, 77% came from direct and indirect investments by both endemic and non-endemic brands. Direct ones are sponsorships and advertising, while indirect investments take the shape of media rights and content licenses.

The largest contribution came from sponsorships - 40% of the total revenue. Advertising was next with 19% of the total, then media rights - 18%. Finally, 13% of esports revenue came from game publisher fees and 11% from merchandising and tickets.

Interestingly, media rights are the fastest-growing revenue source, at a compound annual growth rate of 49.8%.

As in other sports, there is a lot of product placement in esports. You can always see certain energy drinks next to the pros’ computers, for example (most often it’s Monster).

Moreover, platforms like Twitch and YouTube gain more users every day, which further boosts esports audience growth. Facebook caught up as well when it became a broadcasting partner of ESL in 2018.

However, fans really like the fact that professional esports players are active on social media and communicate with their followers. This makes viewers feel more involved and appreciated. As in other sports, fans have certain teams they support, players they love and ones they dislike.

Huge crowds gather in stadiums and arenas to watch games live as if attending a traditional sports game or a concert. Similarly, the audience shouts the players’ names and tries to touch them and get autographs, so pros feel like rock stars.

This is amazing:

Over 70 million people will watch an esports final, which is more than the NBA, MLB, and NHL finals.

And finally, gamers are attracted to the cosmetics they can buy to make their characters look cooler. There is no functionality to them, but lots of people are willing to pay money for them. The things we do for the #aesthetic.

Alright, so it’s clear why more and more people are taking interest in esports. The greatest thing is that everyone can easily watch and play. Indeed, more and more people will join, if only just to see what all the fuss is about. And a lot of them will get hooked and stay for the long haul.

So What Are Our Predictions for the Future of Esports?

The esports industry is going strong and will undoubtedly continue to develop. What we see is just the beginning! It is very much possible for esports to become as popular and lucrative as traditional sports or even more than that.

According to the astounding esports growth projections, by 2022 the esports market is forecasted to reach $2.4 billion.

Based on the steady increase in prize funds, it is certain that esports prizes will get bigger and bigger and thus more and more attractive. Soon, a career in esports will start to make a lot of sense.

In fact, there are already over 50 universities offering esports courses. One example is Staffordshire University. You can go there to learn about the business and culture of esports.

Besides, according to estimations, esports viewership growth will be as much as 600 million by 2020. This will motivate more brands to become sponsors in this lucrative market.

Big names like Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, Adidas, T-Mobile, and even the U.S. Navy are already investing in esports, and others will soon follow in their footsteps. Not only that, but celebrities will participate as well. Superstars like Michael Jordan and Drake have already done so.

Traditional sports are already cooperating with esports. For example, the French football team PSG got a sponsorship deal with an esports team, which is now known as PSG.LGD. Certainly more such deals will follow.

What’s more, new games will find their way to the forefront of esports events. Mobile esports will also develop further and boost the esports economy.

Now you know a wealth of inside details and cool facts about esports growth. Go and share them with the world!

Till next time!


How many people watch esports?

As of 2019, 1.25 billion people watch esports and a lot of them play as well.

How many esports players are there?

Active professional players are currently 10,537 in total and the number of all players is changing every day.

How much was the esports market expected to grow in 2019?

Global esports market is projected to reach over $1 billion in 2019.

Should esports be considered a sport?

Opinions, in general, vary greatly. Still, esports have a lot of similarities with traditional sports. Just some of them are that: they require a lot of training and skills they are played in teams and there are qualifications and tournaments, which millions of people follow, both online and live. To put things in perspective - we have the game of chess, which is universally accepted as a sport. Yet it doesn’t really call for much physical activity. It’s only fair that esports should also carry the same moniker.

What is the esports impact on society?

Just like any other sport, negative effects may include addiction and gambling. With that said, the general impact on society is positive. Esports teach players discipline, strategic thinking, and coordination. They encourage communication and cooperation and bring together people from all around the world. According to 835 gamers who were surveyed, 66% had made up to 5 friends while gaming and 37% had made more than 5. Esports also create new professions, such as professional players and streamers of course, but also casters, game analysts, hosts and commentators, team managers and so on. Moreover, 33% say that gaming inspired future careers including history, art, and science. In fact, professional players retire early, usually in their late 20s, and can choose to remain in the esports field and become coaches - or simply move on to their next challenge. And for the romantics out there, here’s a cute story: you can even find love in the esports industry! A famous couple is two casters, ODPixel and Sheever, who met thanks to esports.


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