League of LegendsLoL

Why eSports Research & The State of The Market

There was a time when I just didn’t get the sports scene.

Growing up in England and attending school with a bunch of kids as obsessed with football (or “soccer”…) as I was with video games, it was tough not to join the hype. Even if it was only for fear of being the odd one out…

At around nine years old and something of an outsider with my then-Scottish accent and wanting to fit in, the peer pressure was real. But, the truth was, I didn’t really get it. I liked to play football and had the scuffed school shoes to prove it.

But sitting in a room and shouting at a television screen, expressing such feverish passion about teams from parts of the country most of the kids didn’t have any affiliation with, and spending valuable gaming time learning nitty-gritty details about players all seemed like massive chores.

I spent my early life in an uneasy, dishonest relationship with the sports scene.

Some years later, and I discovered MOBA’s. And suddenly, it all made perfect sense.

The eSports scene has gone supernova

The pro gaming scene has exploded in the past few years. Let’s look at some eSports research numbers to see just how big an explosion it’s been.

One market data company specializing in the gaming industry, NewZoo, released a report recently stating that the eSports market will be worth $463 million in 2016.

Another market research firm, SuperData, estimates the market to be worth more like $747 million. And it predicts a $1.9 billion industry valuation by 2018.

Either way, it’s not a bad contribution to the global economy for a bunch of nerds sitting on our butts doing what we love, not what we’re told.

The years leading up to 2016 produced equally impressive eSports research stats. For example, between 2010 and 2014, eSports prize pool money increased by 350%, a data point that reflects the fact that online eSports watchers doubled, jumping from 14.9 million unique viewers right up to 32 million by 2013.

Incidentally, that was around the time of the Season 3 League of Legends World Championships and its $2,000,000 prize pool.

At the time, that seemed like quite a lot of zeros for playing video games. But, as it turned out, there was still plenty of room for improvement in the eSports prize pool department.

The International, Valve’s annual Dota 2 tournament, hit a prize pool just shy of $18,500,000 last year. That means the teams placed 2n and 3rd positions in the 2015 Dota tourney got more money than the entire prize pool of the 2013 LoL World Championship. And it was almost double the previous year’s $10 million prize pool.

image shows a diagram to compare sports tournament prize pool money with eSports and pro gaming

Images credit: Valve & BanterChat.com

So yeah, that happened.

And, while Gabe “Nice Guy” Newall’s pretty ingenious crowdfunding system for The International’s prize cash is good for Dota, LoL’s World Championship is also seeing some pretty amazing numbers. In 2015, 36 million people tuned into the World Championship streams, an impressive 33% increase from just one year before.

Such has been the rate of growth, the US government was practically forced to grant professional gamers with visas that allow them to travel and “work” officially as “proper” athletes, such as those who play Premier League soccer. That was around the same time Twitch.tv posted a record 45 million unique viewers, just two years after it was founded.

Truly, it’s been an explosion. And it all happened practically overnight.

Now there are businesses…

Businesses catering to your every eSports need and desire are springing up all over the web and beyond. Entrepreneurs, software developers and industry leaders the world over are jumping at the opportunity to create products and services that cater to the eSports fans and the competitive gaming scene.

There are so many in fact, it’s easier to put together a visual aid to help digest all the different products and companies. Have a scroll around below.

eSports Market Landscape by Mark Mackay

We’ve organized the list into sections so, if you’re looking for something in particular right now, it should be easy to find.

There’s an app for just about everything in eSports. You can place bets on video games, predicting the outcome of events or even put money on the table and pit your skills against other gaming sharks. It’s fun to add a little extra adrenaline to those glorious team fights we all get so hooked on, but there’s a lot of salt involved in the losses.

Not all of these sites will stick around, but clearly, there’s an explosion here, too.

So, where’s eSports research headed?

With so much investment capital, prize pool cash and microtransaction money sloshing around the industry, things are becoming increasingly competitive among services and professional teams alike.

The sheer level of dedication and time investment required is heading off the charts. So what’s next?

In the infamous words of Mark Watney in The Martian, it’s likely we’ve arrived at the time to “science the shit out of this thing”.

In just about every other sporting profession (and remember, most of them don’t even have the same kind of money at stake as top eSports tournaments, and they’re certainly not growing as quickly), analyzing physiological responses and other biometric data is standard practice. Sports science has been an important part of professional athletics for years.

But, not because it’s not effective. For example, when Mobalytics team member, Amine Issa (who has a PhD in sports science) made this eSports research video in conjunction with Alienware, it proved pretty insightful:

And so, this a very the logical next step for professional gaming. In fact, as you can see above, it’s already started. Pro eSports team are starting to look at:

  • Eye tracking technology that generate heat maps showing where pro’s have their attention throughout the course of the game
  • Heart rate monitoring to discover what could be reasonable benchmarks for optimal gaming performance in the heat of the moment
  • Performance psychology studies to (among other things) help avoid becoming “tilted”, whereby emotional state affects gameplay negatively

Gamers seek edges in all kinds of ways. And with such a rich field of academic study to draw inspiration from, it’s only natural that sports science is to become eSports science. Tools like those mentioned above have already begun to give professional gamers advantages previously unavailable. And they’re on the way for us, too.

While eye tracking technology used to produce heat maps has been available even in free software such as Razer’s Synapse since 2014, it didn’t really pick up. We suspect that’s about to change.

Image shows Razer's Synapse software and it's heatmap tracking tool, important for eSports research

By analyzing where you spend most of your attention and where pro’s spend most their attention, you can gain insights on how to improve your game.

Big data analysis and is another defining aspect of the current era. Modern software and hardware affording us the kind of number crunching and insights that are beyond even the power of supercomputers just a few short years ago.

It’s time for the next step…

Where’s all this going? It will likely be the creation of some very interesting and informative tools designed from the ground up to give professional gamers and even amateur competitive gamers an edge. It’s all pretty exciting.

It’s the kind of exciting that gets me ready to shout at screens while my favorite teams are fighting it out, unfolding what looks like pure magic in the heat of competitive play. Learning the details no longer seems like a chore, and while I couldn’t care less about soccer if you paid me, at least I now understand the fans for which my home country is so famous.

I travel a whole lot these days, and people always say to me “oh, you’re from England! what soccer team do you support?” I never know what to say, so I’m all like… “Uhhmm, Fnatic. No? Never mind…”

We love eSports. We love improving our game using the power of data and witnessing inspiring plays from the pro’s. That’s why we’re working on Mobalytics.

[Image credit: artubr]