A few months ago, it was widely reported that Fortnite star Ninja was earning $500,000 a month from streaming the popular Battle Royale game. The eye-watering numbers behind Ninja’s success were met with skepticism at first, but his meteoric rise shows no signs of slowing down, as he and many other gaming stars continue to gain mainstream attention. So striking is this new trend of celebrity gamers, in fact, that two researchers from Ryerson University predict that eSports stars will soon earn more than the world’s top athletes.
The games industry is the fastest growing entertainment industry in the world, but faster still is the growth of eSports. The last decade has seen an explosion of popularity in competitive gaming as a spectator event, progressing from a niché subculture to a recognized sport that the Olympics are interested in.
The study in question was carried out by Toronto-based researchers Louis-Etienne Dubois and Laurel Walzak, who took a close look at all the contributing factors behind the success of eSports, comparing them to current trends in traditional televised sporting competitions.
For starters, Dubois and Walzak state that, "video games generate viewership at least on par with professional leagues." The 2016 League of Legends tournament, for example, drew in 36 million viewers - a massive 5 million more than the NBA Finals that same year. These viewers weren't all made up of people streaming the games online, either; just like the NBA Finals, the League of Legends tournament took place in a stadium in front of a sellout crowd.
The study goes on to note that eSports don't just draw in spectators like regular sports, but draw in advertisers and media giants too. The study claims that, "Companies like Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Samsung, all usual suspects when it comes to advertising and young people, are flocking to eSports."
One may hear about the impressive amount of money in eSports, and still think there will always be more in traditional sports. According to Dubois and Walzak, that trend may not last forever. The decline of the traditional linear broadcast and the fact that more and more people are choosing to consume media online mean that regular, televised sporting events risk losing relevancy.
The study doesn't suggest for a second that we'll see eSports replace traditional sports any time soon. It simply suggests that the former's unprecedented rise in popularity and lucrativeness means that it may not be long before the biggest pro gamers earn just as much as pro athletes.
Many are quick to disparage pro gamers and argue that they can not be compared to traditional athletes who compete in physically demanding sports. But soon, if Dubois and Walzak are correct, one way in which we will be able to compare them is their wallets.