The global esports phenomenon is among the most surprising and impactful changes in the modern media landscape we’ve witnessed over the past 10 years. Many analysts could point to the fact that competitive gaming would soon establish itself as a mainstream concern, yet few could have predicted the means by which this would eventually take place.
Esports has been around, in one form or another, for as long as gaming has been a consumer category. Yet the emergence of tournaments and events capable of rivaling ‘conventional’ sporting events required that the industry itself grow much larger than its formerly niche footprint allowed.
Growing Dominance of the Games Industry
That change occurred in the early years of the millennium when the games industry finally outpaced the revenue of its major rivals, the film and music industries. Fast forward to the present day, and this trend has shown no sign of slowing. The games industry today is worth some $220 billion, which puts it at over six times the size of the film industry despite the success of major franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Much of this growth can be at the feet of the growing relevance and importance of the smartphone gaming sector, whose commonplace ‘freemium’ monetization model has proven highly lucrative for the wider industry. Elsewhere, the rise of loot boxes and other microtransactions on console and PC games have further supported the industry’s ongoing growth in the 21st century.
From the outset of the 2010s, several factors were coming together to pave the way for the arrival of mainstream esports. For one, the hardware cost – chiefly in gaming laptops and PCs – became much more accessible, boosting sales.
Organic growth of legacy esports events across the globe, like the League of Legends world championship, also began to reach a tipping point that resulted in more excellent coverage, sponsorship, and advertising.
Then, when Amazon purchased Twitch in 2014 – the world’s premier hub for esports streaming – it not only validated competitive gaming in the eyes of the markets but opened the floodgates for bigger and better coverage of the growing community.
This continued growth can be highlighted by the fact that Google Trends found a 500% increase in search queries featuring “esports” over the latter half of the 2010s. Undoubtedly, esports was about to break into broader acclaim as 2020 rolled around.
2020 and Mainstream Emergence
In 2020, events markets stalled overnight. The sports industry, for example, was hit massively – with a total loss in revenue estimated to be over $8 billion globally for the year. However, for esports – which by its remote nature proved more resilient, it was an opportunity to break through. Sports fans’ appetite for a competition did not diminish, and esports found itself perfectly positioned to capture market share and new spectators. The industry grew 18% in one year, breaking $1 billion in global revenue and establishing itself as a primary media concern.
In the years that have followed, despite certain analysts’ predictions that the industry will shrink once rival sports return, the esports industry has gone from strength to strength. Now, sports fans are nearly as likely to use sportsbook offers provided by comparison platforms like OddsChecker to back leading esports events as they are to wager on an NBA game.
Microsoft has big plans
In light of this, console manufacturers are investing heavily, seeking to capture new viewers and players from the esports PC heartland, with Microsoft, in particular, outlining a roadmap toward console esports dominance over the next 5 years. Let’s look at what they, and the 9th gen Xbox Series X|S, have in store for competitive gaming going forward.
Halo Championship Series
No franchise is as closely associated with the Xbox brand as Halo. Despite a perceived decline in quality in recent releases – particularly following 343 Studios’ takeover of the development reins from Bungie in 2012 – Halo’s multiplayer has always enjoyed a strong esports showing. The latest title, Halo Infinite, has been lauded for its finely balanced multiplayer, and Microsoft has been investing heavily in hyping up the Halo Championship Series.
Forza Racing Championship
Forza Motorsport is the Xbox’s answer to the world’s best-selling video game racing simulator, Gran Turismo. While Forza doesn’t carry the same prestige as its Sony-exclusive rival, the franchise has come on leaps and bounds over the years, with the spin-off series Forza Horizon proving immensely popular.
Now, coming into the spring of 2023, the mainline series will enjoy its eighth entry, a total reboot simply named Forza Motorsport. Many people are already excited about what they’ve seen here, with integrated pit stops and realistic day/night and weather conditions noteworthy as all-new features for the series. The Forza Racing Championship will no doubt be hotly contested this year as many teams and players flock to experience what the next generation of Forza offers.
Future Exclusive: Call of Duty League
Last but certainly not least, should Microsoft’s historic bid to acquire Activision Blizzard as a first-party studio succeed, the $30 billion Call of Duty franchise may one day become an Xbox exclusive. This is unlikely any time soon. Microsoft’s conditions for a successful bid included a stipulation that the next three Call of Duty games would also enjoy a release on the PlayStation. However, it’s far more likely that the Xbox will seek to become the headline venue for the Call of Duty League (CDL).
This is not without precedent, as the CDL has been hosted on the Xbox and PlayStation. In 2021, the series moved to PC but should the Xbox acquire exclusive rights for this event, it would position it as the dominant esports console in many people’s eyes.