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Does Esports Need The Mainstream?

25 September 2017
CEE 2016 exhibition of electronics in Kiev, Ukraine | Does Esports Need The Mainstream? | Neon

The esports revolution is in full swing. Professional gaming has grown from a niche interest into something that’s broadcast on the BBC, attracts major sporting bodies and will shortly be the subject of a major Hollywood movie starring Will Ferrell.

However, the sport still has some way to go before it can be declared mainstream. As we noted in our free guide, Field of View: How to Identify Your Esports Audience, while 385 million people worldwide follow esports, that number pales in comparison to the billions who follow football’s English Premier League.

The question, however, is: does esports need to meet that benchmark? Football is perhaps the most mainstream sport on the planet. It dominates the back pages, even out of season, and is frequently the first thing mentioned during the sports reports on the morning news. Teams and players are mentioned on TV shows, become ambassadors and spokespeople for major brands and form a part of the common cultural experience, even for those who don’t actually follow the sport. Is this mainstream dominance desirable or even necessary for esports?

In this article, Neon explores…

Does esports need the mainstream?

At the moment, esports is doing well without the mainstream success that accompanies the most popular sports. The esports industry has attracted major sponsorships, audiences are expanding and revenues are soaring, with the total set to hit $1.5 billion by 2020. Does it really matter if the ordinary person on the street hasn’t heard of Fnatic Bunkr or doesn’t see Doomsee’s latest Rocket League play on BBC Breakfast on a Monday morning?

Not currently, but this will all change. According to Newzoo, 32.4 million people in the UK alone play computer games, so the awareness is huge and esports really does have the potential to become as big as football, but it can’t do that alone. While the likes of Coca-Cola and Domino’s are already involved in the sector, these are very much tentative steps. More big brands need to get fundamentally involved in the scene to continue growth.

So yes, esports does need to keep moving towards the mainstream, and here are four ways this will benefit the sector:

The benefits of the mainstream

Bigger audiences mean bigger deals

Esports has increased in value to brands because the audience has grown and as more brands have got involved, the sport has gained in reputation. For the average person, if Coca-Cola is talking about esports then it must be something big enough to be worthy of that attention. That won’t necessarily mean the people whose heads are turned by major sponsorships become dedicated fans, but it increases awareness and exposure, which in turn attracts even more brands. It’s a positive cycle, and while esports is already engaged in that cycle, there’s still more value to be gained from it.

Improved infrastructure

As we discovered at the Future of Esports Symposium, one of the biggest challenges facing the sector at the moment is infrastructure. While it’s certainly not a wild west, teams, players and companies who run events need a more systematic approach to esports that will ensure strong contracts and deals that mutually benefit everyone. Alongside that, venues will help increase esports’ footprint, making it easier to crack the mainstream and – critically – producing another revenue source. By getting this in place, esports can operate in a more self-sufficient way.

Is esports a real sport?

The expansion of esports hasn’t come without its negatives. Traditional TV and sports viewers have expressed their belief that esports isn’t a “real sport” and that because of this, it can’t be accepted into mainstream culture.

The fact is esports is a real sport and it’s getting closer to becoming an actual Olympic event one step at a time. Professional esports players are now regarded as professional athletes in some countries, with the most prominent example being South Korea, where some of the top LoL players are household names such as Lee Sang-hyeok, otherwise known as FaKer. South Korea has even gone so far as to accept gamers as ‘student athletes’, running numerous degree courses at some of the country’s top educational institutions, further underlining how much they value the sport and why others should follow suit.

Quality will keep on improving

As mentioned in our esports guide, professional gamers are athletes in their own right. They follow strict, gruelling training regimes and dedicate hour after hour to perfecting the most minute aspects of their game. The top players abide by special nutritional and dietary needs, all in order to enhance their gameplay and maximise their growth. Not to mention, these guys and girls have probably some of the fastest reflexes and reactions on the planet. If esports continues to make its way into the mainstream, this opens up so many avenues for the sport to progress. Revenue will increase, which will mean more money can be invested into teams and players, so more pro gamers can practice their craft and join the elite fold. Ultimately, esports as a whole will benefit because the players are benefitting.


Esports is here to stay and it’s already made a significant footprint in the mainstream arena. However, as it looks to grow, it’ll need to continue to attract populist interest. The more people watching and the more media covering the sector, the better it is for everybody. The mainstream isn’t just an offshoot of success, it’s a path to it, and one that esports is looking very much like it’s taking.

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