What would you say is the most profitable entertainment sector? If you guessed sports, you’d be correct – in 2022, it had an estimated $486 billion market value according to The Business Research Company. And FIFA revealed they alone raked in $7 billion from the Qatar World Cup. Before you persuade your child into a life of Olympic agony, remember this: profitable doesn’t necessarily mean popular.
Video games have dominated entertainment media for years now. By the end of 2023, global revenue is estimated to reach nearly $222 billion – more than the box office, books, and recorded music.
If traditional sports make the most money, but video games get the vote of confidence, what happens when you marry the two?
Esports might not be big (2022 numbers clock in at only $1.38 billion), but they’re growing at an alarming rate. Could they be the next Super Bowl? Let’s find out.
Is The Super Bowl Losing Popularity?
Yes… and no. The Super Bowl is undoubtedly the most watched broadcast in the US year after year. According to the NFL, the highest Super Bowl viewership in NFL history was XLIX, with 114 million views. By comparison, the NFL revealed 112.3 million Americans tuned into Super Bowl LVI.
It may seem like the Super Bowl is losing its audience, but these numbers only account for television views. Interestingly, a further 11.1 million people streamed 2022’s big game.
The plot thickens even more. As Paul Ballew, NFL’s chief data and analytics officer, said:
The exact number of people watching the game has been challenging to pinpoint given the fact that people tend to gather in groups to watch the game”
The NFL found a way around this. After a collaborative survey with Nielsen, the final tally skyrocketed to an estimated 208 million views. Add to this international viewership, and the Super Bowl doesn’t appear to have lost any steam.
Still, as cable TV continues to plummet and TV becomes more obsolete with every passing year, a decline in ratings is inevitable. It’s likely the NFL will have to focus on streams if it wants to retain its standing.
What Are the Most Popular Esports Events?
Unlike the Super Bowl, which is and always has been a constant, esports tend to fluctuate. One year Counter-Strike might be the game of games, and the next Fornite could overthrow it — so it’s not easy to determine which one is the favorite. That said, a few esports are noteworthy.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is said to have more than 10,000 professional players, making it the most-played esport. CS:GO Championships also pull consistent and significant views alongside other gaming hits like Fortnite and PUBG.
Dota 2’s The International has the largest prize pool of any esport, with a record total of $40 million paid to participating teams in 2021, according to CBS. Since the tournament’s inception, Statista revealed that Valve paid out nearly $220 million to pro players.
As for the most viewed esport event… this one’s debatable. Technically speaking, Free Fire’s World Series 2021 final holds the record, peaking at 5.4 million viewers and 18 million hours watched.
The dispute comes in with 2022’s League of Legends viewership. Worlds was the most viewed esports tournament of the year, and set a new personal best with 5.1 million peak viewers – just shy of Free Fire’s world record. Even so, it blew Free Fire out of the water with nearly 142 million hours watched.
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Sports Vs Esports: What’s The Difference?
Some people fervently believe esports don’t count as real sports because they don’t require any physical activity. Others argue since esports require tremendous skill and are highly competitive, they definitely fit the bill.
Either way, esports are officially recognized as a sport in many countries, including the US, South Korea, South Africa, India, China, Nepal, Finland, and Ukraine. Why, then, is there such a rift between athleticism and gaming?
Is it because sports and gaming are two sides of the same coin, but they appeal to entirely different audiences? Here are a few things setting them apart:
The most obvious difference between traditional sports and esports is how they’re performed. Typical sports – be it weightlifting or sharp shooting — are physical. Players must be present to participate, and physical training is required.
Esports are virtual. Players regularly compete in arenas with live audiences, but it’s just as easy — maybe easier — for such tournaments to take place exclusively online. This means a lot of, if not most, esports players aren’t athletes in the traditional sense of the word, and they can choose to remain anonymous if they like.
Rules and Regulations
Both traditional sports and esports are regulated, but the latter is far less so. Almost all sports divide players by age, size and weight, or gender, whereas in esports this doesn’t apply. In 2005, Vincent De Leon III became the youngest signed esports player at age seven!
Though it may seem women are underrepresented in esports, no explicit rules prevent unisex teams from competing – a rare occurrence in traditional sport. Managers and sponsors are becoming more prominent in esports, but most teams are generally self-governed.
Esports may seem easier at a glance, but some studies suggest video games may be more complex than traditional sports. One investigation by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute concluded esports are more difficult to understand, and more competitive than physical sports.
It’s safe to assume most of us Ordinary Joes & Janes play video games in some form. Even though any player has a higher chance of becoming an esports pro than an MLB star, it doesn’t mean video games are simpler.
Where traditional sports generally build on athletic prowess and peak fitness, video games emphasize quick reflexes, hand-eye coordination, not to mention a knack for strategy and problem-solving. Comparing the skill of an athlete to that of a gamer would be like comparing musicians to painters.
Food for thought: If esports aren’t real sports because they don’t require exertion, does it mean non-physical games like Chess and Poker are also eliminated?
Contrary to popular belief, the esports vs sports viewership debate is not a war between the generations. Indeed, Statista shows 94% of people over the age of 65 aren’t fans of esports, but the average age of avid fans is 29 – not exactly Gen Z.
As for traditional sports, people of all ages are casual fans. Those aged 34 to 45 have the highest ratio of avid fans, while more senior citizens aren’t fans at all – similar to esports.
Another thing they have in common is their target market. For traditional sports, a Statista study showed 83% of men enjoy and follow sports, and 75% of esports fans are male.
A 2019 study by Live Football Tickets named the US the most sports-crazed country in the world, with Russia and China not far behind. By comparison, most esports fans are Asian or Scandinavian, with the US ranking 36th in interest.
Funding and Resources
Perhaps the biggest difference between sports and esports is finance. Traditional sports are decades ahead of esports in terms of funding and revenue, likely because of their infrastructure.
Official sports teams typically have sponsors, home stadiums or courts, and backing from advertisers, media outlets, and even the government – when it comes to international tournaments.
Esports have only just joined the Olympics, and aren’t even included in the Summer games — they’re getting their very own division, scheduled for June 2023 in Singapore. As esports grow in popularity, more businesses are willing to invest in it, but as of yet, it’s unlikely live LoL matches will make their way onto TV.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns, ESPN’s short-lived esports division was the first to get cut in the wake of its lay-offs. Imagine if it stopped covering basketball, baseball, soccer, or hockey. There’d be riots!
Ultimately, sports have had enough time to claim their place in culture. Esports are rapidly rising in popularity, but still have a way to go until they’re as untouchable and significant as traditional games.
Super Bowl Viewership Vs League of Legends Viewership
|Super Bowl XIV in 1980 holds the record for the highest attendance, with 103,985 spectators.||Worlds 2016 had 47,268 live spectators. It’s not the world record, but it is the highest attendance for an LoL tournament.|
|Super Bowl XLIX set a record of 114 million views recorded in the US.||Worlds 2022 set a new record for LoL with 5.1 million views.|
|In 2022, each member of the winning team received $150,000.||League of Legends Worlds 2022 had a prize pool of more than $2.23 million, with a total of $489,500 paid to winners.|
|Most reports estimate the Super Bowl’s average revenue at $14 billion.||It’s unclear how much Worlds 2022 generated, but League of Legends as a franchise pulled in $1.8 billion in 2022.|
Will Esports Become More Popular Than Sports?
Currently, esports are nowhere near as prominent as their traditional counterparts, but this doesn’t mean they won’t stand on a level playing field in the future.
Sports may have stood the test of time, but the things that kept them front and center — like television and traditional advertising — are on the decline. Opposition to tournaments is growing (as we saw with the Qatar FIFA World Cup), and the excessive capital going into sports is also losing favor.
Esports don’t have to transition into the new world, it only has to keep up with it. Video games aren’t as taboo or marginal as they were back in the day, and more people are invested in virtual games than they are in other forms of entertainment. A growing market and constant innovations in technology, streaming, and gameplay keep video games relevant.
Still, until physical sports begin to lose support (which is almost unfathomable considering how ingrained they are in global culture) virtual sports won’t easily dethrone them. It’s not impossible – just extremely unlikely games will win the Esports vs Sports popularity contest.
It’s Only A Game
Super Bowl viewership and League of Legends viewership boils down to tradition vs modernity. Times are changing, so don’t be surprised if the kids of today prefer Madden to the real deal. For now, esports aren’t taken as seriously as the usual sports, but with ample time to catch up, who knows what the future holds?
Sometimes sports culture gets so out of hand, we forget it’s just entertainment. It doesn’t matter if you’ve followed football your entire life or play Dota every now and then — both meant to be fun, and are in their own right.
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What Super Bowl has the most viewers?
Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 holds the record for the watched final, with 114 million views. The game took place at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, where the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 28-24.
Idina Metzel performed the National Anthem and viewers were treated to a pre-game performance by John Legend, while Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Missy Elliot took to the stage during halftime.
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Is Esports bigger than sports?
Not quite. Video games may be the most popular form of entertainment media, but esports don’t hold a candle to traditional sports. Physical sport has more active fans, and its market value is much higher. Still, esports are rising in popularity, and tournaments are becoming more prominent and lucrative.
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How many people watched LoL Worlds 2022?
It’s unclear what the total views for League of Legends Worlds 2022 were, but it reached new heights with a peak of 5.1 million viewers during the final. On top of this, 144 million hours watched were recorded.
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How popular is LoL as an esport?
League of Legends has made its mark as one of the most popular esports, only behind Free Fire in peak views. That said, CS:GO has the most professional players, while Dota 2 The International has the most funding, leaving LoL trailing behind in both aspects.
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