The State of Esports in 2021
Esports is now the fastest growing sport in the world with nearly half a billion spectators tuning in to Esports events during 2020, double the recorded number in 2015. Here we take a look at some of the key news events so far in 2021 that point to the exciting future of this emerging media landscape.
PUBG Corp. returns to India
PUBG, or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, is one of the most successful video games of all time. The game’s creator, Brendan Greene, is widely credited with founding the Battle Royale style genre, of which PUBG and Epic Games’ Fortnite are the most popular examples. PUBG has sold 70 million copies, has been downloaded over 1 billion times and has grossed over $4.3 billion globally.
Despite its broad success in other markets, it was in India that PUBG found its largest audience. PUBG was the most played game on the subcontinent, with 50 million active users in that region.That was the case until 2020, when the game was temporarily banned by the Indian government as part of a wider anti-trust privacy reforms. Since then, developers PUBG Corp and parent studio Kafton Inc. have been looking for ways to circumvent the ban and restore trust in their primary market.
In 2021, details emerged of a new bespoke edition of PUBG in development for the Indian market. The game will feature a number of cosmetic changes from the international edition in order to align itself more closely with the country’s values, including removing blood effects. The core difference though, is that PUBG India is rebuilt from the ground up without any influence from banned developers who previously licensed the game in India. The game will also be hosted on Microsoft’s Azure servers, which are considered trustworthy in the region.
As a gesture of goodwill and statement of intent by parent studio Krafton Inc. to the nation, the company announced it will be making investments in India’s information technology and video game industries to the sum of $100 million. Furthermore, Krafton Inc. announced their intent to invest heavily in Esports infrastructure, tournaments and promotion in the region.
Twitch pulling in sports media
The home of Esports on the internet, hereby undisputed as of 2020’s global Esports boom, is Twitch.tv. The game-streaming and community platform now boasts 140 million active users and 11,000 streaming partners. Bought for $1 billion by Amazon in 2014, the platform is now valued at $15 billion, a 1400% increase in just 7 years. The overall Esports market is currently forecast to grow 9% year-on-year up to 2024. In response to this we are witnessing traditional sporting media investing heavily in building up a presence on platforms that cater to this sector.
The collaborative and informal nature that characterizes the viewership of Esports leads to a greater sense of community identity and belonging among fans, with large sports organizations like NBA and UFC exploring ways in which they can buy into this media.
Gaming brand PokerStars is another name that has been building up its Esports presence in recent years following a high profile collaboration with Esports squad Team Liquid. The brand launched their Stadium Series tournament in 2020, which ended up breaking Twitch’s records for the highest prize payout to date, with the winners walking away with $52 million. Coming into 2021, they have expanded their coverage with the launch of ‘The Twitch Poker Tribune’, which is a weekly blog focused on the latest news and clips from the Twitch poker scene. Many of the sponsored pros have Twitch channels, so players can get expert advice and watch exciting tournaments.
Perhaps the most high profile example of the Twitch trend is the arrival of four European football super-clubs that joined Twitch in a collective signing back in July of 2020. Each has set about developing web-shows that encourage dialogue with fans, with Arsenal hosting retrospective viewing parties of classic matches, and Juventus even syndicating a reality TV web-show called ‘Pitch for Twitch’, that aims to find the club’s greatest fan and recruit them as a presenter for the channel.