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The Unstoppable Rise of Esports and the Incredible Psychological Demands it Places on Its Athletes

  • October 30, 2021
9 minute read

As its name suggests, esports (short for Electronic Sports) involves competitive gaming at a professional level. Over the years, talented gamers have been able to earn big bucks by claiming the championship titles in various leagues and tournaments.

With prize pools climbing into the millions and arenas filled with thousands of screaming fans, investors, global brands and media outlets have taken notice of the continual absorption of esports into the mainstream. In addition, while esports was once primarily popular within Asia, many Western countries — including the United States — are beginning to take serious notice of this rapidly growing market phenomenon.

The Rise of Esports: An Overview of The Esports Market

In 2021, the global esports industry was estimated to have a worth of more than $1 billion. That’s a nearly 50% increase from the year before in 2020, according to Newzoo. The firm projects that by 2022 the esports industry will reach $1.8 billion in revenue. Part of the reason for accelerated growth is a result of the immense uptick in investments. Deloitte found that $4.5 billion was invested into esports in 2018, compared to the measly $490 million from 2017, reflecting a jaw-dropping year-over-year growth rate of 837%.

Clearly, the market for esports is huge and the global rise of esports continues to expand at a steady rate. What's more the valuation of many organizations has reached into billion dollar territory. For example, TSM, Cloud9, Team Liquid and FaZe Clan boast a combined net worth of $1.375 billion. But why has esports experienced so much growth? How has the industry grown to billion dollar valuations in such a short amount of time?

To answer these questions, we must first look at the many factors that make up this burgeoning market. Let’s take a look at some of the most important driving forces:

  1. Rise of mobile gaming: Revenue generated from mobile games, which is more than double that of PC and console games worldwide, has been fueling the rise in esports. A study conducted by Newzoo found that revenues generated from mobile game apps have grown to $70 billion as of 2018. Also, a large proportion of the esports audience are gamers who primarily play on their smartphones or tablets. In fact, ResearchAndMarkets reports that the mobile gaming industry racked in $98 billion in 2020 and will reach as high as $272 billion by 2030. This has created an attractive market for companies looking to advertise their products on esports platforms. Mobile devices are quickly becoming the preferred choice of gaming globally with a reported 2.2 billion users worldwide.
  2. Entry of big investors: Investors such as Comcast, Snickers and even celebrities like Will Smith have invested directly into esports organizations by backing teams or league operators. Such close ties with major organizations will allow these investors to take advantage of revenue opportunities and also influence events that occur within the esports industry, which in turn will further improve their returns.
  3. Big brands entering the market: The rise of esports industry has already created an audience of more than 380 million viewers, which is larger than some traditional sporting events such as American football, golf and rugby combined. This powerful demographic has been a magnet for major advertisers that want to connect with potential customers and showcase their products through various channels such as sponsorships, advertising and social media. This will allow organizations to expand their reach and continue growing their brand.
  4. Increased mainstream acceptance: The rise of esports has made it become a hot topic of discussion within non-endemic organizations such as academic institutions, technology companies and financial institutions, which have helped spread awareness and interest in esports to new audiences. In turn this has created opportunities for those interested in working in esports to build a career in the industry.
  5. More professional teams have been created: The esports industry is now beginning to attract investors who are looking to build professional teams with the goal of participating in tournaments. This will allow many more gamers from around the world to compete for major cash prizes and elevate their status among fellow gamers.

The abundance and rise of esports teams is the result of more amateur gamers participating in professional tournaments. Moreover, esports' growth spurt is largely a result of the formation of these new teams. So, naturally, one might ask: what does it take for one to become an esports player?

The Anatomy of an Esports Gamer

The vast majority of esports gamers are in their mid-to-late teens and early twenties. Because many gamers are of college age, institutions around the US and globally have recognized esports as an integral part of their students’ activities, and even have dedicated esports budgets.

On the topic of funds, professional esports players earn salaries, which can range anywhere from $12,000 to more than $150,000 annually; however, players that are talented enough at their game can earn 7-figures depending on their share of prize pool winnings.

Although amateur gamers have the ability to score smaller wins, if they desire to take their chance at million dollar jackpots, earn fame and esports celebrity, they must first train to compete on a professional level. For the average player looking to break into esports, this means putting countless hours into improving game strategy and individual technique. In fact, professional esports players devote a minimum of 50 hours a week to their craft, according to data from Team Liquid

The typical esports training regimen for a professional player can be broken down into two main categories: training for the game and training personal health. 

Game-related regimen: This entails practicing on the game itself, analysis of past games, and observing professional matches to study tactics. Players spend a majority of their time on improving their game and learning new strategies by scrimmaging team members. For example, Players on Team Liquid spend eight hours every day practicing with one another, facing off against other professional and Challenger-level teams.

Health related regimen: Just like other sports athletes, esports professionals must train regularly and maintain a strict diet to stay in tip-top condition. According to the Head of Performance at British-based EXCEL ESPORTS, The weekly exercise program is divided into three primary areas: stretching, cardiovascular endurance, and resistance training. Stretching is a 15 to 20 minute daily exercise, while players undergo cardiovascular endurance and resistance training 2-3 times per week for 45 minutes. In addition to exercise, the diet of these athletes is also essential. An example meal-plan might look like salmon and eggs for breakfast, chicken and a salad for lunch, and rice, meat, vegetables and eggs for dinner. Players also consume essential supplements such as Vitamin D, multi-vitamins, fish oil, magnesium, zinc, caffeine, among others.

Because of all of the labor that goes into training, many gamers choose to attend colleges that have strong esports programs. For example, the University of California Irvine offers scholarships and grants to esports players who want to pursue their education while also playing on a competitive esports team. This school has more than 10 student gamers representing UCI in the most popular games such as League of Legends, Overwatch, and Dota 2. Playing for a competitive college team raises the chances of these players getting scouted by Cloud9 and G2, two of the top teams in the world.

However, if a gamer is skilled enough already, their talent alone could get them picked up by a professional team. Professional esports players have the ability to control their games with precision and focus. This requires not only a quick mental reaction time, but also the ability to listen to in-game information and process it quickly so that they can make split second decisions  in order for them to win. Furthermore, esports athletes need stamina as well as strength since they must control their characters for long periods of time.

In order to train for esports, gamers must put in the necessary hours and days to perfect their craft. In addition to practicing game strategy and technique, they also need endurance training so that they are able to play for several hours straight without growing tired. This is also why many pros pay close attention to their physical and mental health so that they can continue playing at a high level without suffering from stress or fatigue.

The rise of esports and the market continues to expand due to more companies entering the field, greater investments, and new teams being founded every day. With more gamers participating in the scene, the pressure for gamers to train and prepare for their career is growing. As a result, there has been an increasing focus on mental health in esports in order to prevent players from burning out. In the next article, we will go over the evolving role of mental health and esports  and how this field has been developing.