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Video Games

Esports Coming to the Olympic Stage As Sales Go Up

The market for retail sales of licensed video games and software went up 2.2% to reach $3.07 billion in sales in 2016, according to TLL’s 2017 Annual Licensing Business Survey. In contrast, video game-based licensing rose 3.5%. Esports provides a healthy boost in interest for older properties in particular, helping to maintain their relevance. All of the top video games in the arena (ranking from Unibet) were released in or before 2014; six out of ten of the top 10 games listed below were released in or before 2010.

But more generally, the growing legitimization of esports as a “true” sport boosts the video game industry as brands become part and parcel of pop culture. According to SuperData, the worldwide audience for gaming video content will reach 665 million in 2017. Viewership is expected to grow an additional 21% between 2017–2021. This year will also see gaming video content generating $4.6 billion in revenue, with $3.2 billion flowing in from sponsors and partners.

Roughly 65% of American households are home to someone who plays video games regularly, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Gamers aged 18+ represent 72% of the video game-playing population; the average consumer is 35 years-old. And while Gen X is a smaller group than Boomers, Millennials, or Gen Z , they still hold a disproportionately large chunk of spending power in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2016, the ESA estimates that the video game industry contributed $11.7 billion in value to U.S. GDP and $30.4 billion in consumer spending, compared to $23.5 billion in 2015.

Top Video Games in Esports by Prize Money Earned, Worldwide
Data Source: Unibet.
Note: N/A=not available.
Rank Video Game Publisher Year of Release Prize Money
(in millions)
Professional Players
1 Dota 2 Valve Corp. 2013 $94.95 1,747
2 League of Legends Riot Games 2009 $37.07 4,374
3 Counter Strike: Global Offensive Valve Corp. 2012 $29.75 6,665
4 Starcraft II Blizzard Entertainment 2010 $21.81 1,618
5 Counter Strike Valve Corp. 2000 $10.77 2,591
6 Hearthstone: Heroes of WarCraft Blizzard Entertainment 2014 $7.42 1,135
7 StarCraft: Brood War Blizzard Entertainment 1998 $7.01 551
8 Smite Hi-Rez Studios 2014 $6.48 433
9 Warcraft III Blizzard Entertainment 2002 $4.60 394
10 Call of Duty: Black Ops Activision 2010 $3.82 N/A

Taking the Olympic Stage

Esports will appear as a medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China and the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan. At the latter, FIFA 2017 is the only game confirmed to appear, but the event will also include a multiplayer online battle arena game (such as League of Legends or Dota 2) and a real-time strategy game (such as StarCraft II). Competitive video gaming will initially be a demonstration event at the 2018 Asia Games in Indonesia. The Asian Games is a multi-sport competition, touted as second only to the Olympics in terms of size. 10,000 athletes participated at the most recent Asian Games in 2014. This news comes as cricket and samba are dropped from the 2018 Asian Games.

The Olympic Council of Asia is making esports inclusion possible with Alibaba—which has already committed $150 million to esports. Others pushing for the recognition of gaming as a legitimate sport are the South Korean-based International Esports Federation (IeSF) and the British government-backed International eGames Committee (IEGC). William Hill now stakes the odds of esports appearing at the 2024 Olympic Games at 4:1.

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