Esports typifies the potential of technology to create new economic opportunities. Broadly defined as video games played in a competitive organised environment, esports have grown into a global industry worth roughly $1bn; it is expected to reach $1.6bn by 2024, according to Newzoo

They began in South Korea in the early 2000s, helped by both the government’s development of telecoms and internet infrastructure as well as the rise of private gaming clubs. South Korea’s pioneering approach, which included creating the first esports video games regulatory body and promoting esports together with TV stations, turned out to be a harbinger.

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Asia is currently the regional centre of esports’ growth, being home to the largest number of players and fans in the world. The region generated $543.8m of esports revenue in 2020, up by 4.9% from the previous year, according to Niko Partners. Esports viewership in Asia boomed over the same period, growing by 21% year-on-year to 618.4m. 

Development of this ecosystem has brought with it opportunities. Since the first esports game, Starcraft, was launched in 1998, a plethora of top games are now played in regional league championships, such as League of Legends, Rainbow Six, CounterStrike and PUBG Mobile. Along with new games, job postings for esports roles rose by 343% between the end of 2015 and 2019, according to Indeed

Among the esports ecosystem players, hands-on game developers are the most important. These companies develop and own the games, actively organise professional competitions, and determine regional distribution and access by selective investment in low-lag servers in regions with high paying demand. 

Esports is typically distributed on a free-to-watch basis through live stream platforms such as Twitch, Facebook and YouTube. Advertisements on these platforms help fuel the industry, with most coming from consumer electronics and software games, but increasingly, other advertisers like sports apparel and gaming accessory brands are entering collaborations.

Another important part of the ecosystem is the professional league team players, who are increasingly franchised and under pressure to constantly stream differentiated content to earn ad revenue and sponsorship. 

Equally important are global esports fans, who are expected to grow to 646 million by 2023. Most of this growth is expected in Asia, supported by smartphone ownership, enhanced IT infrastructure and rising middle-class disposable income.  

While concerns mount about player exhaustion, and traditional media platforms traverse a complex landscape of content and media rights distribution, the rise of the esports industry has brought with it new opportunities. As the landscape continues to evolve, the winners and losers will become increasingly clear.

Lawrence Yeo is CEO of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based consultancy that provides Asian market research and investment/trade promotion services. E-mail: lawrence@asiabizstrategy.com

This article first appeared in the August/September print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.