NFL ratings have plummeted this year. Commentators have blamed the election, a changing TV industry, shifts in viewing format, and even a lack of big-name stars. But there may be another factor to add to the list: e-sports.
The competitive video gaming industry is certainly taking off. No longer the domain of nerds, it’s turned into big business, with huge cash prizes on offer. And like any sport with free-flowing prize money, there’s a gaggle of viewers keen to watch the spectacle (who, like regular sports viewers, don’t necessarily play the game they’re watching).
Now a new report by market research company Newzoo claims that 76 percent of e-sports fans say that “their e-sports viewing is taking away from hours they used to spend on viewing sports.” And the number of person-hours being spent watching video gaming is on the up: viewership around the globe is expected to increase as well, from 115 million in 2015 to 144 million this year, and on to perhaps as many as 215 million by 2019.
Admittedly, the impact felt by the NFL is likely to be small: the study shows that around 56 percent of football fans are older than 35, while 73 percent of all e-sports fans are younger than 35. But baseball and hockey are likely to be feeling the effect: male millennials are likely to watch e-sports as often as baseball or hockey, and neither of those sports has an older audience to buoy them. So hours lost to e-sports will have a weighty impact.
All of which makes it feel perhaps a little less strange that acquiring a competitive video game squad is an increasingly popular move for professional sports teams and colleges alike. In September, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired two e-sports teams (they play Overwatch and League of Legends, and, according to the Wall Street Journal, will get “access to the 76ers’ nutritionists, psychologists, and trainers.”) Premier League soccer teams have been signing new recruits that play Fifa on console. And the University of California, Irvine, now has an e-sports scholarship and dedicated gaming arena.
You might be smirking now. But you may be watching them battle it out onscreen soon enough.