Esports stem from the digital age that has brought about a rapidly changing competitive environment. Sports on the other hand, has been with us for decades and is in comparison a traditional and mature market. The key differences we’ve found lies in digitalisation, the pace of change and the consumption of the sports.
Regular sports have been part of our popular culture for decades. It has bridged country borders with international competitions and influenced our culture with brands, clothing, hobbies and games. The most popular sport, football (or soccer in the US), has amassed millions of fans, players and viewers around the world.
On the contrary, competitive video games are relatively new as a phenomenon. Titles such as “Fortnite” and “Minecraft” have just recently launched it into mainstream popularity. Due to its recent emergence, esports have loosely been classified as a subcategory of sports. However, it isn’t as simple as that. The culture and ecosystem around esports differ in many ways to regular sports. Moreover, the games differ quite a lot among themselves, sometimes more so than popular sports such as hockey and basketball.
5 Key Differences Between Esports and Regular Sports:
Esports are Digitally Native
An athlete’s performance in sports is dependent on a variety of factors. That includes physical attributes such as body type, muscle mass and athletic prowess as well as demographics such as income and gender. Esports require some of these attributes as well, such as fast reflexes and the ability to teamwork. However, it doesn’t require a special body type or height, which are both hard to acquire by exercising. That has led the esports community to be a lot more diverse than in most regular sports.
In most regular sports, the performance of women and men differ due to physical attributes such as speed, strength and endurance. Consequently, they compete in different tournaments and leagues to compete on fair terms. In esports however, physical capabilities don’t matter as much, which enables the tournaments to be more inclusive. There are already notable examples of women winning high-profile tournaments, and we only expect more to come.
The Middleground: Motorsports
If the degree of body movement and athletic prowess sets esports and regular sports apart, the question is where motorsports lie. The drivers may steer their vehicles, but the car moves by its engine. It can be comparable to competitive esports players moving their mouse when playing on their computers. Is it the physical risk the driver endures that makes motorsports sports? Motorsports, much like esports, depend on the cognitive skills of the driver, the tactics and the team play between constructors and drivers. Therefore, there is room for thought in terms of if it’s the physical risk drivers subject themselves to that lets the activity be seen as a sport, or if it’s as much a sport as esports is.
Moreover, during Covid-19, some Formula 1 tournaments have been carried out in simulations. This doesn’t only act as a means of cutting costs, but is better for the environment and safer for the drivers as well. Here the line between esports and motorsports becomes even more blurry. Should motorsports be considered esports if played on computer simulations?
The Rules and State of Esports are Subject to Rapid Change
Anyone can pick up sports such as soccer, basketball and tennis. They are hobbies or activities and not products owned by anyone. Esports on the contrary, are exclusively owned by the game developers and publishers. This means that anyone wanting to play or stream a game effectively needs permission from the owner. The same goes for hosting tournaments or playing competitive matches.
See how that affects the integrity of esports
This affects the pace of change in the games. Video games are essentially the game publishers’ products. When they deem their products unbalanced or flat-out boring, they usually change them up. This keeps the games fresh and dynamic, while making sure any imbalances and bugs get fixed. However, it also makes it increasingly important for industry stakeholders such as sportsbooks and media companies to keep up and ensure their products stay up to date.
As regular sports are not products and thus aren’t effectively competing with each other, the rules and state of the games generally stay the same over long periods of time. Minor changes might occur, but these are typically only a few over a decade.
Teams, Players and Fan Bases are Inherently International
Location-based teams have been the backbone of regular sports for decades, with teams competing on a local scale to determine the champions to proceed to the world stage. This structure has benefited the sports as people living in proximity to teams in certain regions become fans as per default. Great examples of this include FC Barcelona, Barcelona or Red Sox, Boston. It also enables for old, well-established teams to have generations of fans from the same families. It creates a sense of belonging.
Esports doesn’t have the same heritage. Being a child of the early 2000-digital boom, esports hasn’t been around long enough to create fan bases that last for generations. However, growing up in the digital age, esports has also reaped the benefits of globalisation. The digital nature of computer games has allowed them to adhere to an international fan- and player base from the start.
Players from different countries have generally played on the same servers, as there have not been enough players for games to have exclusive servers for smaller countries such as Sweden or Denmark. Because of the mix of players, esports teams have naturally evolved into international organisations. The teams have picked the cherries from each country. As the teams have been international, the competitions in many games have also spanned across many countries. Thus, teams have enjoyed fan bases over country borders from the start.
Read about the most popular esports games here
Streaming as a Career
In regular sports, athletes are part of teams, making their money from sponsorships, salaries, grants and crowdfunding. However, the athletes who aren’t in the top spots usually don’t earn as well as the top performers. Thus, many have part time jobs on the side of their athletic careers. This makes it even harder to land the top spots, as they can’t dedicate the same time and effort to their development. For team sports, this generally stands true in lower divisions as well.
That’s not to say that lower divisions in esports leagues don’t experience the same type of income gap between divisions as regular sports do. However, in esports, lower level players have different sources of income that doesn’t necessarily relate to their skill level.
New revenue sources present themselves in the booming streaming market. It allows for professional esports players and amateurs to showcase their skills and personalities on popular platforms such as Youtube and Twitch, generating an additional source of revenue. The bulk of the income comes from brand partnerships, but some platforms also allow for rev-share models as well.
Sports have amassed grand viewership numbers for decades – being a mature industry with an equally mature audience. However, esports, being fast growing and dominated by a younger generation, is not far behind.
Anyone with an internet connection can watch esports. Most tournaments are streamed on platforms such as Youtube and Twitch for free, which makes it easy and convenient to watch the matches and tournaments. It also lowers the adoption cost for watching esports as opposed to regular sports, contributing to the fast growth of the industry.
Where the ease of viewership has helped the growth of esports, it isn’t well monetised in comparison to regular sports. Sports games can be viewed on sports arenas or broadcasted on television where different channel packages or pay-per-view-solutions are available. It means that every means of viewership generates revenue for the industry. In esports, the biggest source of revenue is instead brand deals and sponsorships.
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