While the $1billion dollar sport has become a global phenomenon over recent years, it has yet to truly pierce mainstream consciousness in the UK.
Yet Hill, who won silver at London 2012, gold at Rio 2016 as cox for GB Rowing’s men’s eight and is now a senior consultant for sports industry analysts Neilsen Sports, has predicted esports will only gain further popularity as its profile grows.
He says: "Esports is still a relatively immature sport in the UK but it is growing quickly and is attracting new fans at a rapid rate. 21% of UK fans only started following the sport in the past year.
“The growth of a broader ecosystem of gaming cafés and professional teams is further evidence of the sport’s potential.”
The audience growth in the UK has been partly helped by events such as the 2019 FIFA eClub World Cup being held in London, as well as investment in teams such as Excel opening up more lucrative opportunities foer players and companies.
This year's FIFA eClub World Cup, held in Milan between February 7-9, also saw increased levels of engagement as the sport thrives with increased structure to its tournaments.
The average age of an esports fan is 26 and compared to traditional sports, esports has the youngest proportion of fans under the age of 35, with 85% falling into this bracket.
Hill adds: "The industry is still young and that means it has an incredible potential to grow and reach new audiences. It’s biggest draw – for sponsors and fans alike – is its rapidly increasing reach, with awareness and engagement rising in new markets each year.
"We’re beginning to see more franchises within the sport, such as the Overwatch League, which I expect to see continue. Closed ecosystems provide stability and certainty for investors and teams. Bucking that trend is ESL Gaming, albeit they create greater stability through a tiered event calendar across the globe.
"As more investment comes into esports from brands and financial investors I think we are going to see greater scrutiny and greater demand to understand what return they are going to get. Data is going to play a big part in that, and not just any data – there are big and sometimes inflated figures pushed out. We need to ensure data is both consistently accurate and reliable."
Real Madrid star Gareth Bale is among those athletes with an interest in esports.
As the industry grows, more traditional sports stars such as Gareth Bale and LeBron James have put their names to groundbreaking ventures into this new market.
Equally, traditional sports are also leaning on emerging esports stars to broaden their appeal in crossover events, with esports player ‘Ninja’ featured in a number of Superbowl adverts last year.
Hill says: "The involvement of stars such as Gareth Bale can only be a good thing. We’ve seen it happen a lot in the US, with a number of NBA and NFL stars – Michael Jordan, for example – investing in the sport, along with entertainment stars such as Drake.
"The fact a household name like Gareth Bale is doing the same thing this side of the pond will only help to raise the profile of esports and bring it into the mainstream spotlight. It’s great to see the crossover between traditional sports, such as football, and esports but it isn’t all one way.
"As well as their sheer profile, having world-class athletes like Gareth Bale is brilliant for knowledge sharing, with lessons from football being learned and applied in an esports context."
Phelan Hill is a Senior Consultant at Nielsen Sports, the global leader in sports industry analytics.
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