eSports has become a massive, sprawling industry that's no longer restricted to die-hard video gaming fans, with events that claim to rival the Super Bowl in size and audience.
Now that eSports is no longer an underground craze, everyone from professional sports leagues to major broadcast networks is looking to jump on the trend. At TechCrunch Disrupt on Wednesday, a panel of experts discussed how eSports is being monetized and the ways in which the industry is changing.
One of the biggest misconceptions surrounds what a typical eSports athlete typically looks like. eSports athletes aren't sitting alone in their basement playing video games -- they have daily, rigorous training with team members, not that much unlike professional athletes, said Heather Garozzo, a former competitive Counter Strike player and marketing director for Team Dignitas, an eSports team owned by the Philadelphia 76ers.
A typical day for an eSports athlete involves practicing for at least eight hours, reviewing and analyzing that gameplay footage, as well as a required hour of gym training, Garozzo said on Wednesday. The teams even have their own personalized chefs.
eSports has long been considered a male-dominated industry, but even that is changing, Garozzo noted. About 7% of eSports fans were female in 2017, up from 5% two years ago, she noted. She's noticed that more and more male fans are bringing their girlfriends, moms, parents and kids along to eSports tournaments.
"It's a very social thing too," Garozzo explained. "It's selling out massive arenas like the Staples Center, Madison Square Garden. It's an incredibly diverse audience now."
Brands and corporations have taken notice, too. Craig Barry, executive vice president and chief content officer for Time Warner's (TWX) Turner Sports, the division of Turner Broadcasting that handles the sports broadcasts running on TBS, TNT, CNN and other channels. Turner Sports started broadcasting games from ELEAGUE, a professional sports league, last year.
Broadcasting the games on a major TV network has drawn in more casual fans who wouldn't have otherwise known about the sport, as well as new viewers for channels like TBS, Barry said. Many eSports tournaments are already live streamed for free on sites like Amazon's (AMZN - Get Report) Twitch and Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL - Get Report) YouTube, but Barry said TBS tries to differentiate itself by teaching eSports novices how to watch or how to play the games.
This type of content helps viewers get more engaged in the eSports tournaments, which is crucial as engagement is shaping up to be the most important metric for brands or companies looking to attract advertisers and monetize the content, Barry added.
"Engagement is essential to monetizing eSports," Barry said. "Are they watching, playing, sharing. We don't just go to ratings, we go with collective brand metrics and total engagement."
He added that eSports as a business is still largely in its infancy. At least 6 billion hours were spent watching professional gaming in 2016, but IHS estimates that number could surpass 9 billion hours by 2021, according to Business Insider. As the industry continues to grow in size, more and more monetization opportunities should arise.
Video game publishers like Activision Blizzard (ATVI - Get Report) have also entered the business of eSports by hosting competitions across college campuses nationwide. The gaming giant also created Overwatch League, an international league of eSports teams that include members in New York City, Seoul and other major cities.
Ultimately, eSports is going to get so big that advertisers and corporations won't be able to ignore it, said Stratton Sclavos, a partner at private equity firm Vision Venture Partners.
"Advertisers can't ignore this," Sclavos said on Wednesday. "Eventually, over the years, it'll grow from 10% to 15% to 20% of advertising spend."
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Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 20.