Could you name the fastest growing sport in the world with one guess? Just picture the biggest global sporting events; you know, the World Cup, Olympics, Super Bowl. Think about the fanfare, the celebrities, the news coverage. Think about all of the effort and money that goes in to making sure these events are front page news every time they happen.
This sport has none of that.
And yet in 2021, just one of the sport's main competitions drew nearly 74 million concurrent viewers, compared to an estimated 96 million for the Super Bowl. And unless you already know what sport we're talking about, there's a good chance you didn't even know this competition was happening.
It's not mixed martial arts, racing, rugby, or even the pandemic-inspired boom of pickleball. While those are all certainly among the fastest growing, they pale in comparison to the viewership, participation, and revenue from this sport — in no small part due to its global audience.
And The Fastest Growing Sport In The World Is...
Esports. Yep, you heard that correctly. Esports is estimated to be a $3.5 billion industry on its way to exponential growth that will likely eclipse $10 billion in the next few years. And we're not talking about gaming itself — that market size is over $100 billion in the U.S. alone — we're talking strictly about organized, competitive gaming between teams and individuals.
That 2021 competition that drew numbers similar to the Super Bowl was the League of Legends World Championship Final. It happened in Iceland and is just one example of how global accessibility leads to global growth.
If you're already at least somewhat familiar with esports, then none of this should surprise you. But if you're still wrapping your head around the idea of competitive gaming, it's really not that hard to differentiate from a sport you may be more familiar with. Arenas packed to the brim with fans sporting jerseys of their favorite players, video screens, music, lights — the whole package. Just with, you know, video games.
Understanding The Growth Of Esports
We've already touched on perhaps esports' biggest advantage: it has a global audience. Most games easily translate across cultural barriers and touch on universal themes that aren't too hard to understand. The rules are accessible to everybody and there's not really any advantage to a competitor's physical makeup.
But esports also have the availability and prevalence of mobile phones to thank for their booming popularity. Think about it. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world because the barrier to entry is incredibly low. Really, all you need is a ball and enough room to make up two "goal" areas. You require little to no equipment and the rules don't even require markings on the field, when you get down to it. It's safer than contact sports and the entire world understands it.
While mobile phones and Internet access are certainly nowhere near as accessible as a ball and an open space, the increased availability of the technology has led to a boom in mobile gaming. Couple this with the fact that many mobile games are free (or "freemium"), and it's no wonder the mobile side of esports has become so huge. Sure, it's an easy entryway into console and PC gaming too, but mobile esports stand all by themselves, too.
It also doesn't hurt that esports tournaments are loaded with cash prizes. In addition to plenty of opportunities for athletes to win prize money, the infrastructure around esports now means teams are able to sign and develop players in the exact same way as more "traditional" sports.
Basically, you have all of the organization and infrastructure as a traditional sport, with way fewer barriers to entry for athletes, way less overhead for producing events, way less liability, and way more access for the audience. The fact that competitive gaming is the fastest growing sport feels like more of an inevitability than a surprise at this point.
Yes, Competitive Gaming Is A Sport, And Yes Players Are Athletes
This is an argument that comes up on occasion when talking about esports, and certainly will come up more as people start to understand just how popular competitive gaming is getting. People who simply understand sports in the traditional sense of "physically put this item in the scoring area" look at esports and think, "That's not a sport, and those people aren't athletes."
But it is, and they are. The notion really starts to fall apart when you further try to define what makes something a sport versus not a sport. Especially at the Olympic level.
And while we could talk about the dexterity, acuity, and mental and physical stamina competitive gamers exhibit throughout the course of of their careers, the only thing that really matters is that esports players have teams, contracts, fans, brand deals, practice, and matches just like any other sport. Whether or not your uncle thinks they're an athlete is immaterial considering they're generating revenue like one.
So What If I Want To Get Involved With The Fastest Growing Sport In The World?
Interested in learning more about esports? The best way to start is to actually watch some competitive gaming. Twitch is where you'll want to go if you just want to peruse some of the top channels and events going on. And of course, learn more about some of the top games on the platform. Because unlike the NFL, NHL, or other traditional leagues, every team features players who compete in different games. Sometimes those games are similar, and sometimes they're completely different genres.
If you're already familiar with the gaming landscape, you'll want to dive more into the different esports teams out there and how they work. Esports teams are different from a typical sports franchise. They're closer to how you may view athletes competing for their country at the Olympics.
According to ESports Charts, there are 799 registered esports teams. Start to familiarize yourself with some of the top names and how they operate. These teams feature anywhere from a few to hundreds of members.
If you want to explore more ways to get involved, including as a potential athlete or as somebody who works in management, there are a few routes to go. The National Esports Association is the leading resource in education and materials. There are also different universities and organizations that even offer curriculum in both playing and management — the nonprofit National Association of Collegiate Esports counts more than 170 member institutions and thousands of players.
It's undoubtedly an exciting time to be involved in Esports. As the fastest growing sport in the world, there are more opportunities now than ever.