August 22, 2022
On Nov. 6, 2021, teams from around the world gathered in Reykjavik, Iceland at the Laugardalshöll Arena to crown a champion. At its peak, the championship was watched by nearly 74 million viewers.
Fans didn’t gather around their screens in record numbers for the Super Bowl, World Series or even soccer’s World Cup. These fans were watching the 2021 League of Legends World Championship Final, a battle between elite computer gamers. It was the largest viewership ever for an eSports event.
If you are over a certain age, you might not know eSports exist and you’ve probably never heard of games like League of Legends, Fortnite, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Overwatch or Madden NFL – all games currently popular with eSports enthusiasts. eSports is a broad term that includes everything related to the world of competitive, organized video gaming. Its popularity is exploding, and viewership is reaching numbers that rival major mainstream sporting events. To put its popularity into perspective, about 12 million people watched baseball’s World Series, 112.3 million watched Super Bowl LVI and 1.12 billion watched soccer’s World Cup final in 2018.
“The stats are showing 61% of Gen Zers prefer (digital) gaming over traditional sports,” said Grant Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of Esports Entertainment Group (Tii:GMBL). “While they are still young and as they move through their journey – going to university and graduating – and as they start getting jobs and spending, they are going to be spending their recreational dollars on (eSports and computer gaming) and it’s going to have a major impact.”
The market for eSports and computer gaming is massive, according to Johnson, who said between 2.5 billion and 3 billion people a week say they participate in some kind of computer gaming, whether that be on their smartphones or other platforms.
Esports Entertainment Group is at the forefront of this massive wave, providing the infrastructure and ecosystem for eSports and online gambling, with a mission to connect the world at large with the future of sports entertainment. EEG has partnered with many of the biggest names in the NFL, NHL, NBA, FIFA and eSports. The company is also the exclusive eSports provider to the IGEA, giving it exclusive access to a large portion of the North American casino Industry.
By the time the pandemic hit in late 2021, eSports was already on the rise. But as “live” sporting events were canceled and postponed, eSports flourished. Nvidia (Tii:NVDA), a multinational technology company that designs graphics processing units, estimates there is a global audience for eSports approaching 500 million. As the popularity of eSports has grown, so have the companies behind it.
The largest is Tencent (Tii:TCEHY), the Chinese tech conglomerate that is traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Tencent owns Riot Games, which publishes League of Legends. It also owns a 40% share of Epic Games, which is behind Fortnite, and a 5% stake in both Ubisoft (Tii:UBSFY) and Activision Blizzard (Tii:ATVI). Tencent might not be a household name in North America, but it certainly is in China. The company owns WeChat with its 1.2 billion monthly active users along with QQ.com, one of the country’s largest web portals (and the world’s fourth most visited website). It also owns Tencent Music, a Chinese music service with 841 million active users.
Retail investors can also research other stocks involved in eSports, including: Take-Two Interactive (Tii:TTWO), which publishes Grand Theft Auto, NBA 2K and Red Dead Redemption; Electronic Arts (Tii:EA), whose franchises include FIFA, Madden, Battlefield, Star Wars and Apex Legends; and Zynga (Tii:ZNGA), with hugely popular mobile app games like Words With Friends, CSR Racing and Farmville.
The rise of eSports is not lost on colleges and universities, said Johnson. Universities are adding eSports teams and recruiting scholarship eSports athletes the same way they would a highly touted football player or basketball star.
“Universities are starting to look at gaming as a way to attract new applicants. Just like the athletic complex, like the bookstore, like the library, (computer gaming and eSports) is an asset to the school to attract students. And we know this because we are specifically building that at UCLA. It's not a fad, it's here, it's staying, it's growing.”
Just a few years ago, it would have been difficult to find a single organized university eSports team. Now there are well over 500 that are organized and competing against other schools with more than 100 of them offering scholarships to eSports athletes.
It is still early days for investors looking to jump into the market for computer gaming and eSports. In addition to the companies listed above and Esports Entertainment Group, individual investors can also look at a few ETFs that track a number of eSports-related stocks. There is the ETFMG Video Game Tech ETF (Tii:GAMR), VanEckVideo Gaming and eSports ETF (Tii:ESPO), Global X Video Games & Esports ETF (Tii:HERO) and the Roundhill BITKRAFT Esports & Digital Entertainment ETF (Tii:NERD).
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There are many stocks that are tangentially involved in eSports as well. For example, Amazon (Tii:AMZN) owns Twitch, an interactive livestreaming service for content spanning gaming, entertainment, sports, music, and more.
The market is developing along with the popularity of eSports. For example, gambling on eSports events is in its early days, but is expected to grow exponentially as well. Las Vegas and other gambling hubs are examining how they can evolve to serve the growing market by adding computer gaming centers in casinos where people can play video games and gamble on the outcome.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, as of 2021 some 227 million Americans play video games. And those numbers are going to continue to rise, said Johnson.
“COVID definitely brought eSports to the forefront when pro sports shut down and people started watching more (computer) gaming, but this is a shift in the way people think about sports, the type of entertainment people want and the way they consume it,” he said.
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