By Warren Tristram, Head of Gaming, Lottery & Esports
The esports industry appears to be heading for a crossroads. That’s according to new research commissioned by Nuvei, in which over a hundred key businesses from across the entire esports landscape were surveyed on their preparations and expectations for the next 12 months. Teams, tournament organizers, and games publishers were asked about their reasons for optimism, and their concerns, surrounding the growth of the industry and a number of key trends emerged.
Monetizing the audience is critical
The overriding issue the industry is facing today is how to monetize its audience. Esports teams and brands have successfully grown significant followings as the sport has become more popular, but the cost of fan share and success, notably player salaries, is spiralling in a way that cannot be met through winning more prize pools alone.
Traditionally, esports businesses have turned to sponsorship deals in search of additional revenue. According to our research, 89% of the industry earns part or all its revenue from sponsorship deals, and on average an esports business has 8.6 sponsorship deal running at any time. 77% of esports businesses told us they expect their revenue from sponsorships to increase in the next 12 months, but with only 45% of the esports businesses surveyed actually reporting being profitable at the moment, sponsorships alone isn’t going to cover the short fall.
So it is of little surprise that monetizing its growing audiences is top of mind for the esports industry. But this is easier said than done. Almost half (48%) of esports companies already sell tickets or merchandise. There is little to no appetite to charge fans to view the esports content they have become accustomed to accessing for free, for fear of losing the majority of the hard-won audience. So another solution must be found.
This is why monetization is the most cited issue for esports businesses currently; two thirds (65%) of the industry say the difficulty in monetizing the audience is a top concern when considering the future of the industry.
Attitudes to sports betting are shifting
At the same time as the esports industry is finding its way understanding new revenue streams, it may also be about to redefine its relationship with sports betting.
The majority of esports businesses (53%) already believe that sports betting is important to the future of the industry. That’s compared to less than a quarter (23%) that don’t think sports betting has a role to play in its future. Attitudes to sports betting in esports also appear to be changing; today only 30% of the industry is concerned about sports betting’s impact on esports, far fewer (43%) than those that are not concerned at all. This is a shift away from a previously held belief that the age of the core audience, lack of global governing bodies, and susceptibility to match fixing made esports and sports betting a bad fit.
There are still blockers to sports betting becoming ubiquitous across esports. Currently 74% of esports businesses are involved in games or leagues that restrict sports betting sponsorship (the highest percentage of all verticals where sponsorship is restricted). And two thirds (67%) of businesses believe these restrictions from leagues and games publishers is one of the top three blockers to esports betting growth. Over half (53%) of the industry say this is the single main blocker to growth, ahead of regulations (12%), maintaining the integrity of esports (10%), and the age of the esports audience (6%).
A role for sports betting in the monetization of esports
Today, only 15% of esports businesses say that sports betting currently plays any role in their revenues. So there is huge headroom for growth if the esports industry were to embrace sports betting more fully. Not only would this open the door to a new pool of sponsorships options, but other revenue avenues such as affiliate marketing/revenue share. New sports betting related content could also provide a new revenue stream.
Successful monetization will also include optimizing payments to tackle many of the issues the industry is seeing today. This includes better management of international payments, finding a better balance between convenience and security in their checkouts, and adding more payment methods to meet customers’ expectations. By overhauling the payments process, and embracing sports betting, the future will be even brighter for esports.
For more information about the future of the esports industry, download Payments and the Monetization of Esports now.