It’s a question that we genuinely never thought we’d ask, but could it be that eSports are in fact becoming as big as, if not bigger than, traditional sports? You might think that the Fortnite World Cup (more on that later) has nothing on the NBA finals or the Super Bowl, but we’re here to tell you that times, they are a-changing. And they’re changing a lot faster than we had anticipated.

The eSports boom picks up pace

In 2014, the eSports market was only worth $194 million dollars. Fast forward a mere four years later and that figure more than quadrupled to $845 million. But it gets even better. Projections for 2019 expect revenues to top the $1 billion mark while next year it could reach as high as $1.8 billion.

In any market, those figures are quite impressive, but in the eSports market which is still considered by many to be an insignificant industry, it’s breathtaking. This is an industry that has a dedicated core of fans, whereas a sport like a soccer or golf attracts millions of casual fans for the biggest tournaments. Have you ever heard your non-gaming relative mention they’d love to watch The International? We thought not, but you certainly witnessed those same non-football fans watching the Super Bowl.

This is what makes the popularity of major eSports tournaments and the prize pools involved so astounding. eSports are popular, but only amongst gamers. For now.

eSports prize pools rival traditional sports

The recent Fortnite World Cup saw sixteen-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf walk home with a mouthwatering $3 million as the eventual solo winner. That’s over a million more than Tiger Woods picked up at the Masters and just a tad more than Novak Djokovic picked up at Wimbledon. And yes, you read that right, the kid is just sixteen.

The simple fact that Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf was able to earn that much from one competition says it all. But it wasn’t just Tiger that he beat. Bruce Koepka won this year’s PGA and looks to be the chosen one going into the latest tour. His prize for winning last year? Just under $2 million. Yes, that’s one of the most lucrative sports in the world paying their champ less than an eSports player. Wow.

The Fortnite World Cup had a combined prize pool of $30 million for both the solo and duo contests, but it still wasn’t the largest eSports prize pool of the year. That goes to The International 2019 which paid out $34 million to entrants across the tournament.

To put all of this into even more context, the US Tennis Open is the only traditional sports tournament with a prize pool bigger than the top four eSports tournaments. Now that’s impressive.

Traditional sports teams take note

The PSG eSports team / Photo by PSG Esports / CC BY-SA 2.0

So how are traditional sports clubs taking this? Well, many are taking it in their stride by recognizing the value of the market and embracing it. And rather unsurprisingly, it’s the world of soccer where we’re seeing the most action.

The FIFA soccer titles which come out each year have legions of fans who also support a traditional club. So with this in mind, many of Europe’s leading clubs have now established their own eSports teams. Man City, West Ham, AS Roma, Ajax, PSG, FC Schalke, Wolfsburg, and Sporting Lisbon are just some of the clubs who have entered the world of eSports with varying levels of success.

But despite non-gamer fans finding the moves a little odd, each club has persisted with their investment feeling that the exposure to the gaming community is worth the money spent on their team.

Back in the US, the NBA 2K League boasts 23 teams each sponsored by and affiliated to an NBA team. The league is growing in popularity thanks to the global reach of the NBA 2K game. The NFL has yet to follow suit, but with the continuing success of the Madden football series and the Minnesota Vikings foray into eSports, we may see some movement on that front in the not too distant future.

Will eSports take over from traditional sports?

That depends on what you mean by take over. In terms of revenue generated and prize pools, eSports is already on a par with a huge number of traditional sports. Having said that, when it comes to popularity, it’s unlikely that any eSports tournament will ever overtake traditional sporting events such as the soccer World Cup or the Super Bowl. Although in truth, you never can tell. Not so long ago we would have laughed if you had told us a sixteen-year-old gamer would win more at a tournament than Tiger Woods.