Esports: Sport or Business?

January 27, 2017

eSports: Sport or Business? - Johan Cruyff Institute

The sports industry joins the esports fever to reach the digital generation and expand its business

Can you imagine being paid millions for playing in a professional team? That you were able to fill stadiums with people coming to see you play? That you could attract the masses in the same crazy way as a rock star, a Hollywood actor or a famous sportsperson? esports have made all that possible and more. The fever for video games has had a decisive impact on the sports industry, and not only has it borrowed the name, it has also given a voice to the digital generation and led it to stardom. eSports and the millennials have united and their strength is unstoppable.

To what extent esports, or electronic sports, can be considered a sport remains a controversial question. If we stick to the definition in the dictionary, sport is understood to be any physical activity, whether a game or competition, that requires training and a subjection to rules. A second meaning is: all kinds of physical activity that is done for reasons of health or entertainment.

Spending hours and hours in front of a computer or with a mobile phone in hand playing video games is the antithesis of physical activity. But when the voices that defend it belong to elite athletes, and when the International Olympic Committee itself is seriously contemplating the possibility of introducing esports in the 2020 Olympic Games, it is at least worth considering the debate.

The esports industry is projected to exceed $1.1 billion in revenue and reach 215 million users in 2019

What is undeniable is that esports has had a big impact on the sports industry and its fans are constantly increasing. Athletes, professional teams, sponsors inside and outside the sport, and the media are the main promoters of an industry that attracts, nourishes and satisfies the millennial generation. Professional video game competitions have generated nearly $900 million in revenue over the past three years thanks to sponsorship and advertising, and the industry is projected to exceed $1.1 billion in revenue and reach 215 million users in 2019, according to a study by the consultant Newzoo.

eSports: Sport or Business? - Johan Cruyff Institute

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, now an analyst for TNT Sports, is co-owner of NRG esports alongside former New York Yankees baseball star Alex Rodriguez and active Los Angeles Dodgers player Jimmy Rollins. Swedish Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jarebko has bought the ‘Renegades’ team. Former Los Angeles Lakers player Rick Fox founded the Echo Fox. And the Philadelphia 76ers was the first NBA team to commit to esports when they bought two teams for $15 million – Dignitas and Apex, which now compete under the name of Dignitas.

If we look at European professional football, teams like Paris Saint Germain, Ajax FC, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting de Lisboa, Manchester City, FC Schalke, Wolfsburg, West Ham, Valencia FC, Besiktas, Santos or FC Volga have their own teams in esports and are just as ferocious and dedicated in the transfer market as in traditional football. On September 22nd, Ajax FC added the best player in the Netherlands of the FIFA game to its eSport team. Their marketing director and former student of the Johan Cruyff Institute’s Master of Sport Management, Edwin van der Sar, said at his presentation: “Koen has been FIFA champion on several occasions, inspires our youth and has a personality that fits with our club. At Ajax, we are always looking for new ways to connect with our younger fans. We will help Koen, not only supporting him in big tournaments, but also in organizing activities with our followers. We believe it is important to encourage both digital football and real football. These two worlds can coexist and complement each other perfectly”.

eSports: Sport or Business? - Johan Cruyff Institute

Nor does PSV Eindhoven, to cite another example, skimp on its digital team: its ‘cyber players’ have access to all the facilities and services of the club, appear in the annual photo of the team and wear the red and white shirt in all the tournaments in which they participate defending their colors.

The electronic sports industry allows large brands to foster the loyalty of the millennial generation and connect with them in their own language: 75% of players are between 18 and 34 years old. “The fan phenomenon in esports is amazing -says Shaquille O’Neal-. I have seen this movement in the NBA itself and in other traditional sports. The passion with which these people follow their favorite teams, players and games is incredible. It is an inexhaustible source for sponsors and distributors”.

eSports: Sport or Business? - Johan Cruyff Institute

Heroes of the Dorm is the ultimate collegiate esports tournament. (Photo: Business Wire)

The big players in the esports leagues have turned their ‘hobby’ into a profession and the attraction they generate gives them celebrity treatment in this parallel world. Those guys who distance themselves from the world, shutting themselves up for up to 12 hours a day in a dark room to connect with people from all over the planet through a video game, now fill large stadiums and compete for cash prizes that exceed one million dollars. They are the envy of half the planet!

But what are these curious characters really like? There are different traits that perfectly describe an esports fan, whether a player or spectator: they are passionate, dedicated, with a high capacity for concentration, extremely competitive, with a desire to excel and loyal to a culture, that of gaming. Traditional sports recognize these values in their own players; perhaps that is why they do not criticize those who try to compare both worlds and, let’s not fool ourselves, it is a perfect way to connect with your younger audience and increase your business through merchandising, ticketing, rights, advertising and sponsorship.

eSports: Sport or Business? - Johan Cruyff Institute

In South Korea, one of the countries with the most gaming fever addicts, there are stadiums dedicated exclusively to esports and countless cyber cafes where the only background sound is the bip-bip of electronic games. On October 29th, the Los Angeles Staples Center, the legendary NBA Lakers’ stadium, was packed like never before with fans to see the final of the League of Legends world championship, the most popular video game in the world with 100 million monthly users. The end of the season had a worldwide audience of 43 million, with a peak of 14.7 million viewers during the final. Previous rounds were held in San Francisco, Chicago and New York before the final in the city of stars. The winnings: $5 million in prizes, $2.4 million for the winner.

eSports: Sport or Business? - Johan Cruyff Institute

The scene at the 2013 League of Legends world championship in Los Angeles. (Photo from

Do you think the owner of the Lakers would not pay for those million-dollar audiences? As someone who has lived countless nights of glory with this team, Shaquille O’Neal says, “the fans themselves are the ones who opened my eyes. esports are a great business opportunity and the industry cannot be left out”.

While millions of dollars are paid around the world for these new idols, we can continue to debate whether they are sports or not. If only for fun…

Cover photo: @MeltdownMTL

eSports: Sport or Business? - Johan Cruyff Institute

AFK: Away from keyboard

Aggro: A term that refers to any play-style that’s more offensive than defensive

Blizzard: Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. is a developer and distributor of video games based in Irvine (California)

Buff: To make a champion/ creature more powerful

Caster: Similar to a streamer, but focused more on commentating on the gameplay of other players

Cheese: A strategy that attempts to exploit the mechanics of a game in an unfair or “cheesy” way. Indicative of a lack of skill

Dennis: A Dennis is someone who’s new to the game and doesn’t quite grasp the fundamental mechanics

EA-Sports: Brand of Electronic Arts that creates and develops sports video games

GG: Short for “Good Game,”. Interjection used at the end of a match

Kappa: The main symbol/emote of It represents sarcasm, irony, puns, jokes, and trolls alike

LOL: League of Legends

Metagaming: Any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed rule set or uses external factors to affect the game

Nerf: The opposite of a buff, but instead with developers making something weaker

OP: Overpowered

PEA: Professional E-Sports Association

Reddit: The 9th most trafficked site on the internet where communities self-organized around passion points. In esports, that means hundreds of thousands of people spending hours every day discussing their favorite titles

Rekt: Abbreviation of wrecked. Used when someone losing very badly

Strat: Short for strategy

Streamer: A streamer is one who streams themselves playing video games

Twitch: The world’s leading video platform and community for gamers

Wings Gaming: The chinese team that won the largest prize in e-sports history: $9.1 million at the Dota 2 2016 International Championships


Sport Marketing Online

The main objective of the Master in Sport Marketing & Sponsorship is to guide you in your professional development as an integral sport marketing and sponsorship professional, and teach you how to use marketing tools applied to sports to recognize business opportunities, develop strategies in creative industries, anticipate changes, and optimize and analyze information resources judiciously.

Sign up

2 thoughts on “Esports: Sport or Business?

  1. 1. It’s not “eSports”, it’s esports. Brush up on your AP style.

    2. “esports freaks?” Is that really appropriate?

    What your tonedeaf writer doesn’t seem to understand is the brutal hours required, the very fast reflexes required, and the split-second collaboration it takes to win at the professional level. It’s not like players are vegetables wired to a cable. There is a lot of conditioning, practicing plays, and so on. It’s not just a bunch of guys who are kinda sorta good and just roll out of bed to win some cash.

    • Thank you for your comments, Captain Obvious.
      You are right in all comments you make. We are updating the post as we speak.
      Thank you again and best regards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Magazine