Is eSports stagnating?

Image via Thinkstock
Image via Thinkstock

Has the industry’s spontaneous growth come to a halt?

By Davie Wong, Sports Editor

The world of eSports has been thought to be a booming industry, with incredible growth numbers and profits to prove it. Analysts and critics could no longer deny that eSports was beginning to really earn its place in the traditional world of sport. However, this year could be a step back from that.

The competitive scene of the hugely popular game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) has been hugely rocked by scandals as of late. From players cheating to match fixing, it’s been a rough year for Counter Strike fans and investors.

For the StarCraft 2 scene, the release of a new expansion did little to bring viewers to the pro scene, which has been declining in viewership for a few years now. Some experts blame the producers of the game, Blizzard Entertainment, for patching and tweaking the game to a point of un-playability, while others believe that the rise of other games has been the cause of the decline in viewership. Whatever the case, the numbers don’t lie, and the viewership for one of the largest contributors to the eSports community is declining. That is a very scary bit of news for investors.

And while Blizzard has been seemingly neglecting the StarCraft community, it was partly due to the preparation that went into the release of their new title, Overwatch. Since its release, Overwatch has taken the world, more or less, by storm, pulling viewership from across the eSports community.

The release of Overwatch sent the player-bases of other games reeling. One game in particular, the global giant League of Legends, saw its player-base drop dramatically. While the North American region and Korean region of the League of Legends community has mostly bounced back, the European region of the game is still struggling, and seemingly dying out. Viewership numbers have plummeted in the that region for a variety of reasons. Stellar pay from overseas neighbour North America has seen an exodus of skilled European players leaving their teams in favour of North American teams. Poor match production and poor international play has seen the European League of Legends scene take a serious numbers hit, and that is really not good for attracting investors.

Yet despite all of this, investors are still abundant and eager. This year saw former NBA star Shaquille O’Neil invest heavily into the eSports team NRG. NBA former legend Rick Fox, as well as current NBA player Jonas Jerebko, purchased their own teams and made forays into the world of eSports. Over across the pond, FC Schalke 04, a professional German football team, purchased their own League of Legends team.

The media presence around the scene has also taken off. This year, Yahoo and ESPN created their own branches of media for the sole purpose of reporting on eSports. With these two big names being the first to come into the scene, they’ve both scooped up their share of the best freelance journalists already in the scene and have begun creating a professional standard for what media coverage of the eSports scene should look like.

Their entrance brings a wealth of advertisement opportunities, as well as a new method of revenue for eSports teams that has only really been explored in Korea.

Despite what looks like diminishing viewership nearly across the board, the eSports industry is still growing. Currently worth an estimated $900 million, it isn’t likely that eSports will go away anytime soon, even if it has been a bit of a slow year.