Subscriptions are for more than just Netflix and your favorite news outlet. Now, follows on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media are quite similar to a subscription, except free of charge. Users subscribe to a page based on the content the page provides just like they subscribe to Netflix for Ozarks and Stranger Things.
If followers = subscribers, then the number of subscriptions is higher than ever. Are you in need of exercise tips? Instagram and YouTube are huge platforms for fitness experts. Do you want to watch a particular TV show but do not want to pay for a TV provider? Hulu offers next-day streaming for many programs. Even subscriptions to free podcasts have grown immensely over the years.
If someone wants consistent information, there is probably a page for it, and the content is probably free. But did you know there is an industry approaching $1 billion in worth that relies solely on these free, subscription and follower-based platforms? 
eSports is a term used to refer to any competition based on video games. That’s right, videos games as a sport. An industry currently skyrocketing to the point where the Olympics are considering adding digital competitions to their quadrennial summer games. The International Olympic Committee recently laid out a formal set of expectations for eSports to meet in order to be included in the Olympic games. Even celebrities, athletes, and world-renowned businessmen have taken notice of the growing digital sports trend. Business moguls Robert Kraft, Mark Cuban, athletes Marshawn Lynch, Joe Montana, Shaquille O’Neal, and actress/artist Jennifer Lopez all have some sort of financial stake in the industry. 
Yet it’s still hardly talked about.
Even though eSports is rapidly redefining the definition of an athlete, the industry is still in its adolescence. Like a budding child star with an uncertain future: Will it turn into Ariana Grande or Jeff Cohen?
Well, it’s already bigger than early forecasters anticipated, and it’s growth isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Every year eSports viewership leaps over already established industries, and it’s not stopping anytime soon. High school eSports programs are being implemented, eSports-focused venues are being built globally, and global viewership is expected to reach 500 million by 2020. According to the Newzoo 2018 Global eSports Market Report, “brands will invest $694 million in the eSports industry,” making up 77 percent of the global market. This is expected to grow to $1.4 billion by 2021 and represents 84 percent of total eSports revenues.
To understand how rapidly e-sports is taking the world by storm, Goldman Sachs estimated the industry was worth $500 million in 2017, in 2018 Newzoo expected $1.4 billion by 2021, but the most recent findings value eSports just short of $1 billion. If it continues on this path, eSports is certain to surpass Newzoo’s 2021 projections with ease. 
But the money has to be driven by something, right? Well, the global viewership is huge. The same number of viewers watched the 2018 DOTA 2 Int’l (an eSports event) as the 2018 Kentucky Derby (15 million) and dished out $25.5 million in prize money—$10 million more than the 2018 Daytona 500 prize money ($15.5 million).
But the biggest surprise is the 2017 LoL Championship (another eSports event) saw 106.2 million viewers. In that same year, Super Bowl 50 saw 111.3 million viewers. 
Those numbers are mind-boggling. But even more surprising is that eSports currently relies heavily on social media outlets, like Twitch and YouTube to reach their audience. These mediums are often free for viewers and carry advertising costs much lower than the Super Bowl.
A major reason why the thriving industry has gone largely under the radar is due to the mediums eSports are viewed on. Twitch and YouTube are not the traditional mediums where people sit down and watch “the game” on. These mediums host a younger audience and are often viewed (mistakingly) more as Facebook and less as television, even when viewership numbers are compared. But the concept of eSports isn’t exactly traditional either.
Major media outlets are becoming increasingly interested in the industry. Twitter plans to stream over 1,500 hours of eSports programming and Facebook has also signed various ESL properties through Facebook Watch . The combination of inexpensive, global advertising and enormous audiences provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity for marketers on both current and future social platforms.
YouTube advertisements generally cost less than $1 per view whereas NBC averaged more than $5,000,000 for a 30-second advertisement during the 2016 Super Bowl. These events see similar viewership, but the eSports advertisements cost significantly less per click and likely will not initially exceed Super Bowl ad costs when it finally reaches the major networks. The advertising price is significantly lower for similar viewership numbers.
This brings the topic of discussion back to subscriptions. Brand influencers are becoming a popular social media marketing trend. Users subscribe to and follow these influencers for weekly or even daily updates on their content. In leagues such as the NBA and NFL, athletes are influencers, and the eSports industry has their own share of these big-name athletes as well.
The only difference is that these eSports athletes can communicate with their fans during gameplay. Professional streamers, such as Fortnite’s Ninja, can communicate to an audience while he streams his gameplay on Twitch and YouTube. Basically, Ninja practices while his fans watch and communicate by commenting on the stream. This allows the professional gamer to communicate directly with his audience while they watch and learn from his strategies. In addition, professional gamers can even invite fans to play on teams with them since the online communications and gaming is easier than ever before. Can LeBron James, Tom Brady, or Serena Williams do this with their sport? Absolutely not. eSports turns gamers into an athlete-influencer hybrid to an extent which we have never witnessed in the modern age of sports.
YouTube and Twitch dominate the eSports industry and will certainly do their best to keep the eSports audience rather than let traditional media networks steal them. YouTube recently made a huge investment in eSports and will likely hold the audience for a few more years, or at least until their deal ends and major media outlets try to swipe the industry with huge contracts. If they haven’t already, the marketing industry should take note, as the current state of eSports gives marketers extremely valuable ad spend, with advertising costs being inexpensive relative to the viewership pool.
What’s even more unique is that this comparison only applies to the events and not the advertisements on an influencer’s stream. Ninja has over 21,000,000 subscribers on his channel alone (seriously, check his YouTube page) and he only accounts for one influencer for one of the numerous video games played under the eSports title. Plus, Ninja streams content almost daily, the Super Bowl occurs only once a year.
Even though the industry is young, if eSports keeps growing at its rapid pace, the impact it will have on global advertising will be something we have never seen in sports. This will certainly change the marketing landscape as we know it.
ESPORTS WEEK: How and why the big boys are joining YouTube Gaming and Twitch in the viewer’s quest: http://www.sportspromedia.com/analysis/youtube-gaming-twitch-quest-esports-viewers
- The Explosive Growth of Esports – Trends to Watch in 2018: https://www.holmesreport.com/agency-playbook/sponsored/article/the-explosive-growth-of-esports-trends-to-watch-in-2018
A 2018 update on trends in eSports: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/a-2018-update-on-trends-in-esports-54fa5ec035b9
YouTube has made its biggest eSports investment yet: https://www.businessinsider.com/youtube-has-made-its-biggest-esports-investment-yet-2017-3
- Twitter will live stream 1,500 hours of eSports, including original content: https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/02/twitter-will-live-stream-1500-hours-of-esports-including-original-content/