Each year, Esports Insider asks a range of prominent industry stakeholders to review and reflect on the past year in esports.
The overwhelming narrative coming out of 2023 was the emergence of the so-called ‘esports winter’ — the colloquial term for an industry correction that has seen layoffs and business closures. Times continue to be dire for many teams, and consolidation has emerged as a major trend.
But the year also saw an increased emphasis placed on sustainability and a widespread acceptance that costs must come down relative to revenue, with many arguing a correction was a necessary prerequisite for setting the industry on the correct path. Unsustainable player salaries are correcting and promising new revenue streams are emerging.
Read on to see stakeholders’ opinions on everything from the standout business trends of the year to the games they think showed the most (and least) promise.
How would you define esports in 2023?
Alex Gonzalez, Head of Luminosity, Enthusiast Gaming: “The overall trend is stabilising, showcasing the resilience and adaptability of esports as it moves toward a more mature and secure future.”
Jaime Pádua, Co-CEO, FURIA: “It was a challenging year in which esports companies needed to adapt to new contexts, especially when it relates to a financial crisis that affected all sectors, not only the competitive gaming one. Although, the sector has shown maturity and resilience by overcoming the challenges and maintaining itself relevant as a cultural trend, which I believe to be a really good signal to the market.”
Craig Levine, Co-CEO, ESL FACEIT Group: “Esports in 2023 has been about recalibration. Over the past seven years, the esports industry has experienced an incredible influx of hype and interest and as the video game industry resets after the COVID-induced highs, publishers have identified esports as the linchpin – unravelling the ‘how,’ ‘what,’ and ‘why’ that defines the retention and monetisation of their user base…
“Importantly, this year has underscored the realisation that building generational fandom for a sport takes time—an incubation and acceleration that can only be pushed to a certain extent. 2024 will be about establishing the path to sustainability for the industry and all stakeholders.”
Monica Dinsmore, Senior Director – Esports Brand & Marketing, Electronic Arts (EA): “This past year had its share of ups and downs, but I think we’ll reflect on 2023 as a transformative moment for esports. It was a year defined by shifts in strategy and major adjustments – all of which are necessary for the longevity and stability of the global esports ecosystem.”
Miles Yim, Associate Director, The Story Mob: “Exiting a turbulent adolescence. Post-pandemic, esports has begun to escape the unrealistic expectations of the 2010s and mature into a more sustainable industry. Savvy organisations who planned for the long term continued to find their footing, while others motivated by short-term profitability have started to exit the scene entirely.”
Robbie Douek, CEO, BLAST: “I think it’s gone through a year of adaptation and slight change. We’ve seen the rise and fall of certain actors within the space, which has been difficult to stomach. We’ve seen the rise and fall of certain games as well.
“I think on the whole we’ve seen probably a similar trajectory to what we’ve seen within the financial markets. There’s been a balancing of the ecosystem from the highs of some very large valuations in 2017/18 to a more realistic positioning of the market in 2023.”
Nicolas ‘Nico’ Maurer, CEO, Team Vitality: “This year was defined by many esports organisations returning to the fundamentals of running a business. Of course, competitive success should be the main goal but you also need to establish yourself as a business as well.
“Esports has a very passionate fanbase from all around the world who are really engaged with a hunger to watch the best games and the best players. This is still true today which is why esports still appears to be a strongly growing market when you look at most metrics of measurement.”
Tarik Amhamdi, Co-CEO & Co-Founder, Shikenso Analytics: “If I had to describe esports this year in a single phrase, it would be “The Hunger Games”.
What has been your company’s biggest achievement in 2023 — and what would you have changed?
Nicolas ‘Nico’ Maurer, CEO, Team Vitality: “Obviously, our biggest achievement this year was when we won the last Counter-Strike: Global Offensive BLAST.tv Paris Major. To compete and win our first Major title in front of our home crowd in France was truly special to us.
“In retrospect in 2023, we would’ve taken a different approach to our League of Legends team. We had the remnants of the 2022 super team and we brought in some new talent with Bo and Photon alongside some changes in the coaching staff, but it didn’t really work out. We’re still finding the right recipe in League of Legends to finally take our first LEC title.”
Craig Levine, Co-CEO, ESL FACEIT Group: “The biggest achievement for the ESL FACEIT Group in 2023 was the acquisition of Vindex and Esports Engine. Through this acquisition, we have been able to add an incredibly deep bench of talent to the organisation, who have been industry experts for a long time while also adding a capability for the team based out of the United States to help round out our global operating model.”
Jaime Pádua, Co-CEO, FURIA: “We have kept our growth at a fast pace while maintaining positive operational margins. We renewed with our sponsors and also were able to welcome in new ones. Our international expansion was also a high point of 2023: FURIA now has structures in the US, Brazil and Malta, and an e-commerce structure that allows us to ship our products worldwide…
“Regarding what I would have changed, I believe we could learn a lot in 2023 about what kind of investment makes more sense to connect with our community, so perhaps I would have spent more energy focusing on that kind of investment.”
Robbie Douek, CEO, BLAST: “If I think about 2023 and prior to that, the work we’ve done on Fortnite Competitive with Epic Games has been a huge achievement from our perspective, the overall size, scale and spectacle of that work in particular. The relationship that we have with Rainbow Six and Ubisoft has also been a stand out, which kicked off in earnest in 2023 and has shown some very strong results and then of course there is the BLAST.tv Paris Major — a phenomenal global success. It’s the first time that BLAST has done a Major…
“I suppose we would’ve got ahead of the curve a little bit faster on some of the sponsorship and commercial rights deals that we did very well on. We could’ve done even better if we had been able to activate some of our sponsors and brand partners a little bit earlier in the cycle.”
Monica Dinsmore, Senior Director – Esports Brand & Marketing, Electronic Arts (EA): “From an EA esports perspective, we’re incredibly proud of the viewership and engagement growth we’ve experienced across our esports portfolio in 2023. In September 2023, we debuted a new era of football esports with the launch of EA SPORTS FC Pro…
“We just wrapped a successful Year 3 of the ALGS, which generated 47.9 million hours in total watch time – up 22% year-over-year – and an average minute audience (AMA) of 130,383 – up 13% year-over-year. The Madden NFL 24 Championship Series is also having a standout season with registration already up 81% year-over-year. As we look ahead to 2024, I’m very bullish on our esports programmes.”
What do you think were the standout esports business trends this year?
Monica Dinsmore, Senior Director – Esports Brand & Marketing, Electronic Arts (EA): “There were a number of standout trends in 2023, but in my opinion the most notable was industry right-sizing – from brand partnerships to esports organisations. In the last several years we saw overinvestment in the space from venture capital, and this year we’ve seen the effects of that.”
Craig Levine, Co-CEO, ESL FACEIT Group: “The standout esports business trend of this year is partnerships. Throughout 2023, the gaming and esports industry has faced many challenges to respective businesses, prompting a varied perspective on the landscape. This shift has fostered increased collaboration, as we are seeing partnerships with esports organisations merging and publishers reapproaching their ecosystems.”
Miles Yim, Associate Director, The Story Mob: “I was inspired by the creators and influencers who took a greater interest in the esports leagues they loved. Organisations like Moist Esports and Disguised entered VALORANT and League of Legends esports not because they expected to make money, but because they were passionate about the competitions and wanted to be involved.
“I’m not sure if content creators alone represent a complete solution to the challenge of esports audience growth, but it’s reassuring to watch fans of Ludwig or Disguised Toast discover esports for the first time, and be excited by what they find.”
Vlad Ispas, Assistant Broadcast Producer, PGL: “A notable trend observed throughout the year was the inclination of all parties to prioritise cost-effectiveness. We comprehend this trend and think that, from a business standpoint, the approach is to achieve a high-quality end product while maintaining a reasonable expenditure.”
Tarik Amhamdi, Co-CEO & Co-Founder, Shikenso Analytics: “Seeing that the business industry places substantial value on in-person meetings post-COVID. The eagerness among individuals to attend events and partake in face-to-face meetings underscores the business-oriented nature and benefits, particularly in the context of talks, discussions and negotiations.”
Which esports scene has impressed you the most in 2023?
Craig Levine, Co-CEO, ESL FACEIT Group: “Our Mobile Legends: Bang Bang tournament has impressed me the most in 2023. With over 15 million hours watched and a sold-out venue for three consecutive days in Jakarta, it unequivocally proves the immense scale of mobile gaming. While regional preferences exist, the magnitude of this event aligns with the same stalwart we see across other esports titles like Counter-Strike and Dota 2, each boasting a decade or two of history.”
Nicolas ‘Nico’ Maurer, CEO, Team Vitality: “Rocket League has impressed the most this year because it has outperformed all expectations in 2023.
“When you look at games like Counter-Strike or League of Legends, they’ve been staples of esports for many years so we knew they were going to do well…
“But Rocket League this year has sparked a lot of excitement with new rivalries and popular tournaments which has gained interest in the game over the year and has subsequently drawn in new viewers.”
Alex Gonzalez, Head of Luminosity, Enthusiast Gaming: “Apex Legends and their commitment to constantly improving their viewing experience for fans at home while levelling up their in-person events. Our Apex program had an exciting 2023 with some top finishes we are proud of. We look forward to competing in the ALGS in 2024.”
Jaime Pádua, Co-CEO, FURIA: “CS2 – Even after the shift from CS:GO to CS2, the scene keeps its popularity among FPS fans. The audience remains high, the tournaments are competitive and prestigious, and there is a lot of anticipation for the upcoming Major, the first in the CS2 era and in the new model established in 2023 for team rankings.
“VALORANT – The game is succeeding in connecting with its fans and community. Its expansion is gaining traction and more territory every day, being the partnership established between the publisher and the teams the core of such growth.”
Miles Yim, Associate Director, The Story Mob: “VALORANT! Maybe I’m biased, but I was in the stands to see VCT Champions live at the KIA Forum in Los Angeles and it was amazing. Watching a North American team win an international esports event is a rare thing, and to see Potter and Demon1 lead EG to a World Championship after all the adversity that team faced was very special. It was a perfect capstone on the year VALORANT firmly established itself as a Tier 1 esport. Expect it to stay there for the foreseeable future.”
Which esports scene impressed you the least in 2023?
Nicolas ‘Nico’ Maurer, CEO, Team Vitality: “I was surprised with Dota 2 this year and the lack of conversation there was around The International (TI). Typically on socials, we’ll see a huge amount of conversation on the tournament about the teams, prize pool, etc. However, this year I didn’t see as much engagement as I would’ve expected. I don’t know the exact reason but I felt that fewer people were interested in watching this year.”
Tarik Amhamdi, Co-CEO & Co-Founder, Shikenso Analytics: “What I will remember as one of the least significant topics this year are NFTs in esports. I believe that the tech-savy GenZ target group is more on the cautious side when it comes to some novelties. Questions like ‘is this something that will last’ or ‘do I really want to put my money into it’ always give the topic of NFTs a bland flavour.”
Jaime Pádua, Co-CEO, FURIA: “Dota 2 — the game’s competitive scene has been losing appeal among fans across the last years and needs to reinvent itself. Audience numbers are not encouraging and the player base takes time to be renewed, so if there is no major restructuring of the circuit, I feel that the orgs will move further and further away.
“Even if I am saying that, I must also say that I’d really like to see a wide restructuring in the scene to revitalise it and create a better ecosystem for the teams.”