Why eSports Is ‘Growing Like Wildfire,’ From Activision Blizzard to Echo Fox

The Grill 2018: eSports “is not just a flash in the pan, it’s an industry that’s developing,” says Damon Lau, head of eSports at UTA

Move over, soccer. To many in the industry, eSports is poised to become the world’s next big thing in athletics.

The revolution is well underway, with Daniel Cherry, CMO of Activision Blizzard, telling the audience at The Grill in Beverly Hills on Tuesday that eSports is “growing like wildfire.” A former chief marketing officer of the New Jersey Devils, Cherry said competitive gaming now resembles professional sports, with franchises, dedicated players, major advertisers and big money on the line.

Getting paid is definitely a big part of it. Competitive gaming has been around in some form since the 1970s, Damon Lau, head of eSports at UTA, told the audience at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. But the money and prestige has only recently started to become a fixture, and that’s helping draw in a new crop of passionate gamers. “People are building careers,” Lau said. “This is not just a flash in the pan, it’s an industry that’s developing.”

Jared Jeffries, former NBA star and current president of eSports organization Echo Fox, said young fans can look at eSports the same way he looked at a basketball career.

“The reason I wanted to play basketball was, as a poor kid from Indiana on a farm, I saw a headline a guy was making a million dollars playing basketball, and I was like ‘that’s for me right there,’” Jeffries said. “You’re going to have more kids grow up and see this as, this is my job forever, and they can play now until their thirties.”

Jared Jeffries speaks at The Grill

But to critics, it doesn’t make much sense. Why would anyone want to watch someone else play video games? That argument rings hollow with eSports evangelists, who point to a myriad of “boring” sports in comparison.

“I like to use golf as one [example]. People will tune in to golf for five hours, walks 300 yards in the quiet, and hits the ball again, and you do it over and over again,” Matthew Iantosca, managing partner at Gerber Kawasaki Wealth & Investment said. “Whereas in the eSports world, you’re watching the top players in the entire world in a highly competitive environment, where it’s extremely noisy, extremely fun to watch. There’s just nonstop entertainment.”

While it might not make sense to some, it’s a fact: eSports is drawing in legions of followers from across the globe — 380 million fans in 2018, according to Newzoo. And they’re young fans, according to Cherry, with a median age of 28-years-old. Cherry pointed to ESPN broadcasting Activision Blizzard’s OverWatch League, coupled with the international expansion of eSports franchises, as a sign of strength. “We are truly a global sport,” Cherry said. “Our championship in the grand finals had London play Philadelphia in New York. So think about that. It is the future.”

It’s a self-sustaining growth model: The influx of fans has led to more options to watch. In turn, that increased exposure helps draw in new fans and advertisers. Young fans now look at their favorite gamers like LeBron James, the panelists argued. And with the industry on the cusp of passing the $1-billion threshold in annual revenue, Jeffries compared investing in eSports to investing in a baseball team in the 1950s, when boxing and horse racing were the premier sports. Things change, and Echo Fox, along with Activision Blizzard, Gerber Kawasaki, and UTA, believe eSports is a worthwhile bet to keep grabbing new fans.