2018 is over, and nobody will deny that it was a ridiculous year for the esports industry. Celebrity investors, new competitions, almost-unbelievable organisation valuations, and a plethora of incredible game play have all made it a year to remember, but what’s to be expected in 2019?
Here at Esports Insider we cover the business side of esports so, naturally, our predictions will be based on such. Of course, we’d love to speculate on how Astralis will fare in CS:GO in the new year and whether the FGC will ever stop squabbling or not, but business is what we live and breathe.
Let’s get into our five predictions for the esports industry in 2019!
Overwatch League troubles?
Activision Blizzard has brought in eight new investors to own expansion teams in the Overwatch League at $30-60 million a piece, but things aren’t perfect. A vocal portion of esports fans think the game is too hectic to follow (which could well make the game less accessible to new viewers), average viewership – excluding China and potential bots – declined steadily over the course of the inaugural season, and the developer is fully in control of everything that happens in the competition which is a scary prospect.
A slew of inappropriate behaviour and, subsequently, suspensions were present in the first season of the premier Overwatch competition, which isn’t attractive to sponsors. The OWL has acquired a roster of prominent sponsors and secured a ludicrous amount of money at the same time – but what happens if they decide to drop out? How easy will it be to acquire new sponsors if everything isn’t as great as it’s being portrayed?
The second season of the Overwatch League kicks off on February 14th, and we feel as if it’ll be pivotal. If the aforementioned problems are addressed as much as possible and faith in the game is restored in those who have become disillusioned in it, then things could be OK for the foreseeable future. If not, then franchise owners could well start to feel a little iffy about the future of their trusty investments.
Battle Royale remains relevant
2018 was undoubtedly the year of the Battle Royale genre. With PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite both having their fair share of the limelight in terms of player base and viewing figures, the genre was truly put on the map in a casual basis; it’s had a harder time from a competitive viewpoint, however. From H1Z1 Pro League coming and going, PUBG’s dwindling popularity, and Epic Games’ questionable esports efforts, there’s plenty of room for the genre to grow when competition is involved.
We predict that Battle Royale titles will continue to thrive in 2019 – with games similar to Call of Duty’s Blackout being released and making a wave in the market, albeit briefly – but people will still argue over the genre’s status as a legitimate competitive format. PUBG Corp. is launching six Pro Leagues with three additional pro circuits and Epic Games still has millions of dollars to give out over the course of the year, so it’s an interesting time for the industry.
Traditional sports clubs continue to invest
Over the last couple of years there have been a number of trends in the esports industry, many of which aren’t as significant as traditional sports clubs and their involvements in video games. Whether it’s straight-up acquiring majority shares in organisations (such as OpTic Gaming and compLexity Gaming), investing and partnering with local companies (Pittsburgh Knights and the Pittsburgh Steelers, most recently), or entering the scene through a safe route (football teams expanding into FIFA, for example), there’s been an abundance of instances in recent times.
It’s hard to imagine this will slow down. With that being said, if a bunch of clubs that have already invested decide to back out of esports now as is hasn’t been immediately fruitful monetarily, then it may heed a warning for those looking for a quick cash-grab. This isn’t a bad thing for the esports industry at all, though. In 2019, we expect to see more and more crossover between traditional sports and esports when it comes to ownership of organisations and teams.
Mobile esports on the rise
These days, you can pick up your mobile phone and play against other people in real time – all you need is a decent internet connection. This is a major part of why mobile esports is on the rise and why many predict it will take off in a huge way in the not-so-distant future.
When we attended the Clash Royale League World Finals in Tokyo, Japan, we saw a potential glimpse into the future. Not too different from esports as we currently know it, the arena was filled with impassioned fans that were happy to pay to see the best players in the world compete.
Accessibility is a huge factor in the attractiveness of mobile esports, but titles such as Clash Royale have proven that mobile games don’t need to merely be a portable version of PC titles. MOBAs such as Dota 2 and League of Legends are undeniably popular and so it’s understandable that mobile versions of the genre are flooding the scene, but originality may well trump all. We truly think we’ll find out more in regards to this theory in 2019.
Even as valuations for organisations and companies continue to rise, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing in 2018. Echo Fox announced that it would undergo an organisational restructure in October to better position itself for profitable and sustainability in the future – releasing its Call of Duty and Gears of War rosters, as well as fighting game competitors and other select players.
On a bigger scale, Infinite Esports and Entertainment – the parent company of OpTic Gaming, Obey Alliance, the now-defunct Allegiance and a host of supporting companies – released a whole host of staff members around the same time as Echo Fox. Growing too fast was where blame was placed, following a rapid expansion and a suite of acquisitions following the majority share sale of OpTic Gaming in November 2017.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see this happen at other prominent companies and organisations in the upcoming year, too. Spend is ridiculously high when you occupy spots in League of Legends and the Overwatch League, player demands are ever-growing, and contract buyouts are nearing unfathomable heights. Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to move forward in a stronger state, and it should be expected as the industry edges towards a potential bubble.