eSports – The rise of new mass media

Figures watching eSports on screens

eSports is emerging as a serious new mass entertainment medium for the 21st century. 

But what are eSports?  That may sound like an odd question to ask if you are close to the world of gaming, but the fact is that some people don’t know that much about it. 

Indeed, 10% of UK gamers in 2021 did not even know if they had ever watched an eSports event or not.

For the uninitiated eSports are not, as you might think, something to do with a Peloton membership.  eSports are all about playing computer games competitively in a tournament. 

Not only do these events attract large numbers of competitors, but they also attract significant online audiences.  The fact is that millions of people around the world enjoy watching other people play in gaming competitions.

A growing sport

eSports has grown enormously in popularity in recent years.  Major events now claim global audiences in the millions.   This has attracted significant advertising and sponsorship revenues from big brands like Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Intel. 

But they have only scratched the surface in terms of potential sponsorship and advertising revenues.  Many brands outside the industry still simply don’t yet know enough to decide whether to get involved.

So, just how popular are eSports today?

Big numbers

There is no doubt that some events are posting big numbers when it comes to audience sizes.  Global estimates claim that as many as 435 million people watched at least one eSports event in 2020.  Big tournaments like the League of Legends World Championship are now able to generate a peak viewing audience of around 4 million.

Of course, 4 million is still less than the peak audiences generated by many of the world’s biggest televised sporting events.  BBC1’s peak audience for Wimbledon reached 9.6 million in 2019.

However, far more important than the current audience size is the rate of growth.  Audiences have grown from 160 million in 2016 to 435m by 2020.  At that rate the biggest of these events could well be matching the viewing figures of Wimbledon soon.  The future looks a very exciting prospect.

But beyond the big numbers, what about some specifics?  Who watches eSports?

Audience specifics

What do we know about the people who watch eSport?  Is (for example) an audience of 2 million, an audience of kids or adults?  Are they Americans, Russians, British or Chinese?

It might be tempting to assume that most viewers are likely to be kids and teenagers.  However, adults make up over half of the global audience. 

It is important to remember that eSports is still a relatively young and fast-growing medium.  There are many people today who only watch occasionally that may well become regular viewers in future.   We are talking about a global audience that has nearly trebled in size in the space of just four years after all.

So, let’s look at this emerging audience in more detail by focusing specifically on the UK.  Who watches eSports in the UK today?  How might this change in future?

The UK Audience for eSports

Nearly 9% of all UK adults now say that they often watch eSports.  This equates to 3.6 million UK adults. 

However, a further 24% say that they have watched eSports at least occasionally (a further 9.8 million).  The potential UK audience is therefore significantly larger than currently.

In terms of what kind of eSports people like to watch, the most frequently mentioned was FIFA (which appeals to 49% of UK viewers).  The second most popular watch was Fortnite (35%).

However, when it comes to the third most popular watch, it’s too close to call.  Games like Rocket League, Call of Duty, Streetfighter and League of Legends cluster close together with around 15%-20% of viewers citing such games as eSports favourites.

UK Audience Demographics

Infographic of UK Adult eSports Viewers

The majority of UK viewers are male but eSports are attracting a significant female audience as well (one in three).

In terms of age profile, eSports are attracting a younger audience.  55% of the UK adult audience is under the age of 35. Although, at the other end of the spectrum, interest clearly falls away significant amongst the over 45’s.

This highlights one of the key strengths of eSports as a new medium.  More traditional media such as the major terrestrial TV channels struggle to engage with the under 35s in the same way.  2019 Ofcom figures show that, of the five main terrestrial TV channels, only around 17% of the audience was under 35.

The Future of eSports

eSports will provide advertisers with an increasingly attractive way to reach the under 35s in future.

However, eSports is still in its infancy in many ways.  The biggest commercial terrestrial TV channel (ITV) was reaching 54% of the UK population every week in 2018.  Contrast that with the current 9% of UK adults who say that they often watch eSports. 

There is clearly a long way to go before this new medium matches its more traditional rivals in terms of overall reach but the future potential is immense. 

If all those people who’ve only watched occasionally become regular viewers in the next few years, eSports could reach 33% of the UK adult population.

For further information about the UK gaming market

The statistics quoted in this article come from our UK Gaming Market Report of 2021. 

This report provides invaluable insight into current trends in the UK gaming market, covering detailed gamer demographics, genre preferences, device preferences, trends in Cloud, eSports audiences, VR, gamer consumer profiles, aspirations for the future and more. 

You can find out more about this report on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.


Playbook – UK Gaming Market Report 2021, Synchronix Research

eSports Trade Association


SportsPro Media


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