Esports in the last two decades has become a billion-dollar industry on a trajectory that would make NASA jealous. Players are celebrities, tournaments fill arenas with screaming fans, and sponsors are increasingly injecting real money into the esports ecosystem.
Indeed, the players are like rock stars. Or are they? Esports skeptics would hold that the values of teams and the industry itself may be experiencing a bubble. As more than one observer has noted, the same people who report its success stand to profit from it. And like any startup, enormous investments power PR, which enhances valuations, which lures additional investment and keeps the entire game operating. And so the cycle goes on until, as it always does, the music stops. At that time, invested parties may be looking for a chair to sit in.
It’s also tricky to project the history of, say, the NBA onto esports, because of some of the industry’s unique characteristics and dynamics. First, esports players tend to be younger than physical sports athletes, and so far, peak between 17 and 25. They’re younger, less mature folks with relatively brief adult careers. Second, publishers own esports games. Riot owns League of Legends, but the NBA doesn’t own basketball. These are potentially paradigm-level differences.
Yet while esports clearly differ drastically from traditional sports on many fronts, there are a number of ways that they parallel and indeed mirror traditional sports. These parallels can provide some basis for predicting future problems for the esports industry. Here are some of the issues, many of which are already nascent, that we foresee becoming major concerns in esports in the very near future.