The growth of the video games industry in Australia continues to go from strength to strength, representing $4.029 billion dollars in revenue in 2018. And if you think video games are just for teenage boys, think again. According to data from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, more than two thirds of all Australian’s play video games. Almost three out of four of these gamers are adults (over the last 5 years, the average age of a gamer has stayed around 34) with the gender split generally even between men and women. But perhaps one of the most interesting things to come out of this significant growth is the emergence of eSports.

To give you an idea of how big the video games industry is, 2018’s top selling game Red Dead Redemption 2 generated more than $725 million in worldwide sales in its first three days of release. This dwarfs Avengers: Infinity War’s record-breaking $641 million opening weekend, making it the single biggest entertainment debut of all time. Source: CNBC

What is eSports?

eSports is a form of competitive organised video gaming. Individuals or competitors from different teams face off in the same games that are popular with at-home gamers (think the likes of shooters such as Fornite and Call of Duty, or sports games like NBA2k and Madden). These gamers are watched and followed by millions of fans from all over the world, who attend live events or tune in on TV or online.

The magic of eSports isn’t just in the gameplay itself, but in the personalities and culture around it. It attracts a broad range of amateur and elite players, the latter of which are like Olympians within the gaming community. eSports actually isn’t anything new, in fact it’s actually been around since the 70’s, just the continued growth of video games into the mainstream and increase in global streaming services have helped push it into the public domain. And as eSports continues to move beyond that of a fringe sport, so to have the number of people watching it grown significantly and the amount of money invested in it.

Whilst not at the viewership levels seen by the Superbowl (yet), eSport’s global appeal means its gaining traction. Source: Sports Media Watch.

Like traditional athletes, eSports players can rake in big money. The prize pools for the biggest gaming tournaments in the world are becoming comparable to the winnings in more well-established traditional sports. The 2017 International offered a prize pool larger than the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and twice the size of the 2017 Masters Tournament, and what was most interesting was that 94% of that $US24.7 prize pool was crowdfunded. Source: Visual Capitalist.

But can professionally playing video games really be be considered a sport?

Studies have shown psychological similarities between professional video gamers and traditional athletes. The mental and physical reflexes of these elite level gamers actually rival those of conventional athletes. eSports gamers were seen to produce the same levels of cortisol (your stress response when undertaking demanding competition) as a professional race-car driver. Their pulses were also often as high as 180 beats per minute, the same as a marathon runner. It’s a stressful and adrenaline-pumping experience, with the excitement of the competition rivalling any footy match. ESL, the world’s biggest eSports league, have even started testing players for performance-enhancing drugs.

eSports gained a further credibility boost in July 2018 when the International Olympic Committee hosted its first forum to build a better understanding of eSports and explore future engagement with the industry. Source: European Gaming.

How are brands, retailers and landlords coming onto the eSports trend?

eSports is turning into a very lucrative market and not just for video game producers. Naturally we’re starting to see brands and retailers begin to play in the space.

In the hopes of trying to attract a younger demographic in store (ie. those consumers who generally like to order online and avoid bricks & mortar stores like the plague), Walmart recently started opening dedicated eSports arenas within some of their stores. US video game retailer GameStop also recently launched a 11,000 ft performance centre dedicated to hosting a range of public gaming events and tournaments, as well as announcing plans for a range of concept stores fitted out with eSports facilities for gamers.

More closer to home we have soon to be launched Fortress Melbourne. Co-founded by ex-Village Roadshow chief digital officer Jon Satterley, Fortress Melbourne has announced plans to open a 200-seat 2,700 sqm esports arena across 2 floors at the Emporium Melbourne in 2020.The site will be the largest gaming entertainment arena in the Southern Hemisphere, pitched as a new kind of entertainment experience that combines a gaming arena and a high-class F&B environment with full service bars and a restaurant.

Could the future of eSports belong in shopping malls?

eSports will continue to grow both as an industry and a pastime. And we’re now beginning to see landlords turning to purpose built eSports venues as an innovative retail strategy to fit out malls and combat decreasing traffic.

Simon Property Group, the largest mall operator in the U.S, were one of the first operators globally to introduce offices and hotels into malls to expand beyond their traditional bricks and mortar retail offering. And they’ve now turned their attention to eSports. Recently they invested $5m in esports infrastructure company Allied Esports. As part of the investment, Simon Property will partner with Allied to build dedicated facilities in several malls that will host gaming competitions among with other video gaming related events. They see this as a way to help turn it’s malls into more “experience-driven hubs” to drive foot traffic. “Esports is a giant baby as an industry – it’s still very young… but one very important factor is we must bring the viewing experience offline like you have with concerts for music and theatres for movies”, said Frank NG, Allied CEO.

The future continues to look bright for esports. If you haven’t heard much about it yet, give it time. It’s spread, both globally and culturally, is inevitable.