In 2015, eSports is no longer considered an interesting trend that is reported upon with the notion that getting paid to play video games is interesting, but maybe a bit wacky. Competitive gaming is a lucrative enterprise with many big investments from advertisers and corporations. With 2015 yet another banner year for eSports, 2016 is shaping up to be even bigger. Expect more refinements to how competitive gaming is presented to a larger audience and perhaps a multi-million dollar endorsement deal could be in the cards for 2016, according to analysts speaking to the Los Angeles Times Tuesday.
Competitive gaming has aired on ESPN 3 and ESPN 2, but 2016 ups the ante with a new deal with TBS. "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" will be the first game featured in the first season of this new eSports league formed by the Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and talent agency William Morris Endeavor and IMG. Each competitive gaming season will take place over 10 weeks with live events airing Friday nights on TBS.
Activision Blizzard announced its own eSports division that will be headed by former CEO of ESPN and the NFL Network Steve Bornstein. Mike Sepso, co-founder and former president of Major League Gaming, will serve as senior vice president. Electronic Arts announced its own competitive gaming division. Coca-cola has invested heavily in eSports as has Red Bull. Tournaments with a total prize pool of $1 million or more are becoming more common.
With that much money at stake -- and the potential for more money down the line -- understanding the audience is crucial, Kevin Lin, chief operating officer of Twitch, said to the Los Angeles Times. Data will be vital for expansion in new markets, such as Latin America, and figuring out how to turn viewers into consumers.
Competitive gaming teams have their share of sponsors, but will 2016 see a player earn a multi-million dollar endorsement deal? Athletes across professional sports can earn hundreds of millions of dollars -- LeBron James signed a $500 million lifetime deal with Nike, Stephen Curry extended his contract with Under Armour that includes an equity stake, Kevin Durant's 10-year Nike deal could surpass $300 million, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earn over $20 million a year in endorsements.
An endorsement deal with an eSports star won't reach those numbers, but a multi-year deal worth $10 million could happen next year, according to Koh Kim, co-head of business development at game-streaming app Mobcrush.
Even without further inroads into the mainstream, competitive gaming will continue to grow as games like "League of Legends" and "Dota 2" attract larger audiences. The "Dota 2 - The International" in 2015 had a tournament pool of over $18 million in 2015 and it's likely to surpass $20 million in 2016.